Bob Mansfield, one of Apple top executives, has been dropped from the company's leadership team and will instead work on special projects, according to online reports yesterday.
Several media outlets, including the Reuters news service and the Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD website, said Apple had confirmed that Mansfield, a senior vice president and head of the company's Technologies division, was no longer on Apple's top-tier executive team. He will continue to work at the company, however, and report to CEO Tim Cook.
Earlier Sunday, speculation that Mansfield had left Apple was sparked by the removal of his photograph from the executive team's website. MacRumors first reported on Mansfield's vanishing act, claiming that he had disappeared in the previous 24 hours. The Bing search engine cache showed that Mansfield was still listed on the leadership page on Friday, July 26.
Mansfield was among the handful of men at the top of the Cupertino, Calif. company, a group that also included Craig Federighi, who oversees all software development; Jonathan Ive, head of all design; and Peter Oppenheimer, the company's CFO.
An out-and-out departure by Mansfield would not have been surprising. In mid-2012, Mansfield announced his retirement from Apple, where he'd been since 1999. Dan Riccio, formerly the hardware lead for the iPad, was picked to take his place as head of all hardware engineering.
However, in August -- reportedly at Cook's urging -- Mansfield changed his mind and was appointed to lead a new Technologies group, described by Apple as composed of the company's wireless and semiconductor teams.
Mansfield has also been on a stock selling spree for the last eight months, hinting that the special projects label may be temporary, and if so, signaling that he had long-planned an exit.
Before his June 2012 retirement announcement, Mansfield's stock vesting schedule had been altered to account for an open-ended employment -- originally he was to stay several months during the transition to Riccio -- so that he would accrue shares daily rather than forfeit them all if he left before June 21, 2013.
Those shares had been granted in November 2011 as part of the executive compensation program at Apple, which rewards its top-tier managers with large stock grants tied to their continued employment. Mansfield, along with others, was awarded 150,000 shares that would vest in two equal parts, the first in June 2013, the second in March 2016.
According to a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), Mansfield sold 14,465 shares on June 21, 2103, the first day those shares vested, for approximately $6 million. In March 2013 and November 2012, he sold 23,000 and 35,000 shares, respectively, reaping $11.3 million and $20.4 million in the transactions.
SEC documents show that Mansfield owned nearly 50,000 shares of Apple as of June 21. At Friday's closing price, those shares would be worth about $21.8 million.
Assuming the special projects designation is not a dodge to disguise another retirement or even a demotion, one intriguing possibility is that Mansfield will join Paul Deneve, the former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, who was hired by Apple in early July, given a vice president title and set to work on "special projects." Deneve also reports directly to Cook.
Analysts interpreted Deneve's hiring as Apple's need to bring aboard an executive experienced in fashion and luxury goods to lead a group working on the oft-rumored "iWatch." Mansfield's long experience at Apple in engineering would seemingly make him a prime candidate to lead the hardware development of a wearable computer or iPhone accessory.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.