Apple announced Tuesday that it had selected John Browett, formerly the CEO of European tech retailer Dixons Retail since 2007, as the company's new senior VP of retail. Browett has big shoes to fill as he tries to replace Ron Johnson, who in 2000 helped then-CEO Steve Jobs design the company's first ever Apple Stores, and who left Apple in June 2011 to lead J.C. Penney as CEO. While Browett brings a great deal of retail experience, one Apple fan -- a photographer named Tony Hart -- wrote Apple's current CEO Tim Cook an e-mail explaining his concerns with the new hire.
Now, I don't know John or his career in the least, but as a UK consumer I am familiar with Dixons and the DSG group that owns them and other similar stores, Hart wrote in his e-mail. They have a spectacularly bad reputation and are considered to be one of the worst retailers in the UK in any market. It would be a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy to say that John's reputation is the same as Dixons, but as a long-time Apple supporter and a user who wants to see the best for the company, I wanted to voice my concerns on reading this news.
As you're well aware, Apple's retail experience is exemplary. Please do not let standards slip. Hopefully John Browett will do a superb job, and none of my concerns will come to fruition, but please, do not turn Apple's retail experience into Dixons or allow the Apple brand to become watered down and weak.
In a rare move, Cook wrote an e-mail back to Hart, assuring him that Browett was the best by far among the eligible candidates for the position.
Tony, I talked to many people and John was the best by far, Cook said. I think you will be as pleased as I am. His role isn't to bring Dixons to Apple, it's to bring Apple to an even higher level of customer service and satisfaction. Tim.
On his blog, Hart expressed his gratitude towards Cook:
That, my friends, is an impressive commitment to client communication, he said. It all goes into why I love Apple. In a world fascinated with doing the bare minimum, where pride in your work is a decreasingly common thing Apple is a firm that stands out for its determination to go the extra mile. Be it in custom milling laptop chassis from blocks of aluminium, having world-class retail stores or simply taking two minutes to reply directly to your customers. I don't think everything Apple have done in the past 10 years has been spot on, but I do applaud the passion and commitment behind it. Cheers for your email Tim!
Cook's response puts many concerns about Browett to rest. Browett will be reporting directly to Cook anyway, but hearing an unofficial yet resounding statement from Apple's CEO, written in an informal setting, gives customers confidence that Apple knows what it's doing.
Cook is smart to field customer concerns. When Jobs was CEO, he would regularly answer customer questions, respond to e-mails about broken laptops, and even interevene on support calls. In one case, Apple customer Scott Steckley called in to get his PowerBook G4 repaired, and after explaining that he was a dedicated Apple fan, the customer service rep told Steckley, I've got somebody here who wants to talk to you. Jobs then got on the line, introduced himself, explained that he personally put an expedition on the repair, and apologized for his incredibly long wait. It's really nobody's fault, it's just one of those things, he said. Jobs then said he saw how much Apple equipment Steckley owned, and thanked him for being a loyal customer.
Cook is smart to honor Jobs's offbeat tradition with his own personal e-mails, which plays perfectly into Apple's overall hands-on customer service approach. Hopefully soon, Browett will be the one making personal calls for his retail customers.
Our retail stores are all about customer service, and John shares that commitment like no one else we've met, Cook said.
Browett was born in 1963 in Rutland, England, and studied zoology at Magdalene College in Cambridge University, graduating with a degree in Natural Sciences. After picking up his degree and spending some time at investment bank Kleinwort Benson, he moved to America to attend the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his MBA.
After a brief stint as a management consultant, Browett joined the UK's largest retailer Tesco in 1998. In just two years, he became the company's chief executive of online operations. He was picked up by Dixons Retail in 2007, and since then he had made a good stab at repairing the chain's reputation for shoddy customer service, and improving its financial position.
Apple chose the 48-year-old Browett not only for his financial and customer service savvy, but because he's a great fit for the Apple brand. Browett is a fanatic about health and fitness, he loves music from Mozart and Madonna and he's a big fan of sailing, but more importantly, he hates the boardroom approach to business. In fact, just as Jobs did, Browett refuses to wear a suit and tie.
I am not particularly motivated by money, power, or celebrity, Browett said. I think that those things are frankly for the birds, I don't really care about them. What really drives me is if I can see I can make a difference, and I saw that I could do something different with Dixons. I did not forsee the consumer recession which we've had -- nobody did -- but are we still on plan with what we said we would do? Yes, we are.
Browett will be responsible for each of Apple's 361 stores worldwide.