Steven Sinofsky, Scott Forstall, and the Road Less Taken

As much as we’ve discussed Scott Forstall’s pseudo-departure from Apple—I’ve Come Not to Bury Scott Forstall, But To Praise Him—at length, we haven’t talked about seemingly unrelated, but curiously related, news of Steven Sinofsky’s abrupt departure from Microsoft. Is there a connection? Is there an opportunity for Forstall in this? The mind boggles. In the end, however, it’s going to come down to which path they choose next.

You must admit, that there are some very interesting parallels between Forstall’s pseudo-departure (I say pseudo, because technically he’s still working for Apple, just not in his old job) and Sinofsky’s.

  1. Both departures were out of the blue and abrupt
  2. Both men were said to be, oh, a little tyrannical to work for.
  3. Both were thought to be heir apparent for the CEO job—but didn’t get it.
  4. Both might have been clashing with their boss and/or fellow senior execs, making it hard for the company to execute a cohesive vision.

There is, however, one very important difference—Sinofsky left on the up swing, Forstall did not. By all accounts Windows 8, Windows RT, etc are doing well. You can’t say that Sinofsky launched something like, oh, Maps and wasn’t willing to eat the crow that was being served to him. Already, there are nearly book’s worth of discussions about each of these departures, and here are just a few of the ones that caught my eye (related to Sinofsky’s departure):

Now how about that second one? I hadn’t thought of it, but Forstall going to Redmond would certainly be thumbing his nose at Tim Cook. Maybe not as bad as going to Google to work on Android or Samsung, but it would still sting a bit. As Patently Apple points out, Forstall is going to wind up either working for a competitor or starting something that might eventually compete with Apple. It’s a pretty much foregone conclusion.

But, let’s consider the personalities of these folks (and heck I haven’t worked with or even met them, so all this is really hearsay, right?). If it is true that they are prickly or difficult or just plain terrible to work with or for, where would be the right choice for them?

Sure, companies need vision, fire, passion, but there is that old “teamwork” thing that needs to be there to work. Maybe Steve Jobs could pull it off (or maybe it was his exec core that kept the wheels on when Steve went off the rails on someone), but sounds like Sinofsky and Forstall could only keep their respective ships off the rocks for only so long before the admiral took their commands away for before things ran aground.

This is why I don’t think Forstall will wind up at Microsoft or Google or Samsung. While he might be brilliant, I don’t think his personality will work in today’s corporate culture/mindset. What would be interesting is if Forstall decided to do something like start up a company that will make the next great mobile OS. Remember Steve Jobs was forced out from Apple, then went onto start NeXT, which later because part of the foundation of OS X.

What if Forstall goes off on his own and devises something better than iOS, better than Android, better than Windows Phone 8, and then winds up coming back to Apple in a few years to launch iOS 10 (or iOS X) which revolutionized mobile OSes?

Honestly, that’s where my money would be.

Sinofsky? I’m betting he also go the startup route, but I don’t know what he might venture towards—I’d bet, however, it’s not towards Apple.

 Photo from Flickr by Tony Unruh.