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The Papermaster Saga

November 22, 2008

In the latest development in the saga of Mark Papermaster, the former IBM exec has countersued IBM.

Papermaster, you may recall, is the IBM exec with mucho inside knowledge of blade servers and IBM's Power microprocessors whom Apple hired as Senior Vice President of Devices Hardware Engineering, a role in which he reports directly to CEO Steve Jobs and oversees the lucrative iPod and iPhone divisions. IBM took umbrage and sued Apple and Papermaster, citing the non-compete agreement Papermaster signed. Now Papermaster has countersued, calling the agreement overbroad, unenforceable, inapplicable, and just generally not nice.

That's the news, but the real story is, why did Apple hire this heavy hitter to manage a part of the company for which his past employment would seem to make him an odd fit?

Here's what Papermaster has experience managing: high-end processors and blade servers

Here's what Apple hired him to manage: iPhones and iPods.

Is there anything we can deduce from this apparent mismatch? Perhaps.

I suggest that this is what Apple would do if it were grooming Papermaster to be the next CEO.

As CEO, he would have to understand all aspects of Apple's business. He'd hit the ground running with respect to servers and whatever Apple plans to do in silicon (and it certainly plans to do something with its recent acquisition of PA Semi), but the iPod/iPhone business would be new to him. Start him there while you run out the calendar on that non-compete agreement that would cause him problems if he were in charge of computers or chips, size him up, see how he fits the culture, if he can step up to the demands of the job, and when the time is right and Steve is ready for whatever comes next, move the new guy up.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the Senior Vice President title. The guy is really more of an engineering manager than you'd expect for the CEO track. But past experience show that winning the respect of Apple engineers is a job requirement for any Apple CEO.

What do you think?

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