Bob Mansfield detached himself from executive duties to focus on chips and wearables

iPhone 5 promo (Bob Mansfield 002)

Apple haters had a field day learning SVP of Technologies was stripped of his executive title this past Sunday. Nevermind that Technologies was created specifically for Mansfield last August by combining Apple’s wireless and semiconductor teams and that he actually wanted to be relieved of executive responsibilities.

The org change was confirmed in a SEC filing and Apple cryptically said Mansfield will remain with the company to work on special projects, reporting directly to Tim Cook. Now, some watchers were quick to jump ahead of themselves and interpret the move as a bad sign for Apple and its celebrated hardware guru, who was un-retired at Tim Cook’s request just a year ago.

Some even went as far to speculate Mansfield had fallen out of favor with Cook, which couldn’t be farther form truth. That’s certainly not what I’ve been hearing, along with other pundits who insist Apple engineers are loving the chubby executive a lot.

Other sources in the know have stepped forward, too, underscoring you could hear the same sentiment echoed throughout the corridors of 1 Infinite Loop. Yes, Mansfield was crucial to development of Apple’s biggest hits, including the iMac, iPhone and iPad, but don’t fret – he’s not really going anywhere. Jump past the fold for the full reveal…

What transpired here is that Mansfield’s reduced executive duties now allow him to pursue his focus more on Apple’s in-house chipset design efforts and special projects such as the rumored iWatch.

The well-informed blogger Mark Gurman has the story:

As Senior Vice President of Technologies, Mansfield was also in charge of Apple’s special projects engineering teams. In his new role, sources say, Mansfield will continue to contribute to special projects (such as the iWatch), and Jeff Williams will assist in overseeing management for these groups.

This is consistent with reports which asserted the executive’s particularly developed interest in wearable technology.

I heard much the same thing from my own sources three days ago.

Bloomberg, too, four days ago:

Mansfield, 52, requested the change so he could focus on creating new products without the distractions of being on the executive committee, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the information is private.

Gurman adds:

According to a source familiar with the former Technologies team, there has been a lack of formal internal communication regarding the reasoning behind the management shift. However, the company did make the new executive roles clear to these employees.

Even with the lack of communication, sources say that the change is not unprecedented. Over the last couple of months, Mansfield is said to have been increasingly focused on chips (and some aspects of wireless) while delegating his other teams to other executives.

Mansfield may never detach himself from Apple fully, Gurman’s sources claim, as he’d very much love to contribute to Apple in some fashion, even in retirement.

The report goes on to note that Jeff Williams, Apple’s SVP of Operations and Tim Cook’s right-hand man from his pre-CEO days, will now assist in overseeing management for Apple’s engineering teams folded under the Technologies division.

Meanwhile, Apple’s SVP of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio gets to “oversee antenna design for Apple’s mobile devices in addition to hardware engineering for the WiFi components in all of Apple’s products,” Gurman quotes his sources as claiming.

We’ve been through this role-splitting scenario before.

Bob Mansfield status change (SEC filing)
Apple’s SEC filing regarding Mansfield’s changed status.

SVP of Retail Ron Johnson departed for JC Penney ten months ago (that didn’t work out) and Apple is still evaluating external candidates for the position. Nevertheless, Apple Retail’s been doing just fine with CEO Tim Cook and CFO Peter Oppenheimer managing the unit until a suitable replacement for Ron Johnson has been secured.

Yes, splitting Mansfield’s SVP role between two other VPs makes the perfect sense.

Apple Leadership page (Bob Mansfield, SVP of Technologies)

Not only has stripping Mansfield of executive duties allowed Apple’s major human asset to go into stealth mode, the semiconductors guru can now put all of his energies behind his true passion – chips and wearables – and without too much friction because he now answers to literally no one but CEO Tim Cook.

Another area of interest for Mansfield: according to a Bloomberg article last November, he’d been tasked with dropping Intel chips in favor of in-house designed processors in Macs by 2017.

Mansfield, 52, notably lead Apple through the major 2005 PowerPC-to-Intel transition.

Chips, wearables and Bob Mansfield – sounds like a winning combo to me.

And wearable technology, if you take the words of Apple’s corporate coach at face value , is where the company’s next major breakthrough will come from.