It's been a tough month for top tech executives. After Apple pushed out its newly-hired retail head John Browett and its longtime iOS chief Scott Forstall at the end of October, Microsoft followed suit on Nov. 12, announcing in a press release that its president of Windows, Steven Sinofsky, would be leaving the company just two weeks after the successful launch of Windows 8.
With the exception of Browett -- it's widely believed the former Dixons CEO wasn't the right choice for Apple in the first place -- many are still shellshocked by the news that Forstall and Sinofsky, two highly respected creative minds at their respective companies, will be leaving their longtime posts.
While the departures of Sinofsky and Forstall are different in many ways -- Forstall will stay with Apple as an advisor before leaving sometime next year, while Sinofsky's leave was "effective immediately" -- there are some similarities. For instance, both men were considered to be among the top creative talents, and furthermore, many employees believed these two men could have eventually led Apple and Microsoft due to their "relentlessly aggressive" styles somewhat evocative of the late Steve Jobs, who was similarly known to be the bristly creative type.
It's not yet certain what ventures Sinofsky and Forstall may pursue now that they've left the world's two largest technology companies, but in an email to Microsoft staffers, Sinofsky at least got to explain that his decision to leave "was a personal and private choice that in no way reflects any speculation or theories one might read." Meanwhile, Forstall's departure is widely considered to be an ouster by top company executives, and his motivation is less certain.
Sinofsky might want to take a vacation -- he was probably going to take one after the launch of Windows 8 anyway -- but what should Forstall do?
Here's an idea: If Apple doesn't want Forstall's expertise on its mobile software anymore, Microsoft is looking for a new head for Windows…
Sure, there are a few main reasons why Microsoft shouldn't consider Forstall. After all, he's an Apple guy, and the philosophies at Apple and Microsoft are quite a bit different. Add that to the fact that Forstall has a similarly aggressive management style like Sinofsky, and it's quite likely that Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer wouldn't want to hire a guy they'd have to stifle. They want a "team player."
However, if Forstall could come to an agreement with Gates and Ballmer to work in harmony with Microsoft staffers, he could be a major asset. Not only does he have experience designing the most popular mobile interface on the planet, but he also has the experience and knowledge from working at Apple, and probably knows a great deal of trade secrets Microsoft would be keen to capitalize on.
And if it wasn't clear by now, Forstall really is his own sort of genius. He may be a bulldozer like many Apple employees have mentioned anecdotally, but he's incredibly smart and talented. Many employees even said Forstall was the closest approximation to Steve Jobs that Apple had left. He graduated from Stanford University with two degrees in two years and was immediately picked out and hired by Steve Jobs when he was working at NeXT. Forstall was transferred over to Apple when the company purchased NeXT in 1997 and was promoted to senior VP in 2003.
Now that Forstall is nearly done at Apple, he will have an important decision to make, given his youth and status. He will eventually sign onto a new venture, but which? If he truly admired Steve Jobs -- and I believe he did, and still does -- he likely won't accept any kind of job working for Google, given Jobs' "thermonuclear" hatred for Android, Google's mobile OS.
Where else could he go? He could do what Jobs did, which would be start his own company (this is possible), but I'm sure Forstall would enjoy being able to step into a similar leadership position at another company and lead a new team of engineers. Forstall is a passionate man, and if Microsoft believes he could contribute in a meaningful way (and be tamed while doing so), they would be smart to hire him.