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Mark Papermaster Was Not the Proverbial “First Choice”: This Surprises People?

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“I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones.”

The above line, from the Disney movie Miracle, is delivered by the coach of the USA hockey team when an assistant coach questions some of his choices for the final roster. It seems very apt when looking at Apple’s hire of Mark Papermaster. 

Sometimes I’m surprised at the what the Apple blogging community considers newsworthy. Maybe “slow news days” really do exist, because it’s otherwise hard to understand why anything would be made of the fact that Mark Papermaster was not initially Apple’s “first choice” when looking for Tony Fadell’s replacement. 

Big deal. 

Have none of those writing this stuff ever been involved in an employe search? Heck, this doesn’t even just apply to the executive level for which Apple was searching. 

Frequently, the mythical “first choice” (FC) can’t be considered in the first place. You know, as in “The ideal person would be Ima Navailable, but she just got promoted at Megacorp and will never leave”. 

More importantly, however, is that the FC is initially defined based on idealistic goals of getting the “perfect” candidate, which almost never occurs. In Apple’s case, they made it very clear that attitude and managerial leadership would trump specific technical abilities. 

To be sure, the candidate must have technical abilities, but if they are in some other discipline that at least provides an indication they could be applied to newer duties, then that may suffice. After all, Apple undoubtedly feels the team can help guide the technical aspects and bring them along, whereas management cannot be taught. (Yes, I’m sure it’ll anger the many management and leadership seminar providers to no end when I say this: Leadership cannot be taught. You either have it or you don’t.)

In short, Apple feels they can likely turn an individual from being technical in one capacity to being technical in another, whereas they know they cannot make someone who lacks the right managerial skills into the kind of leader they require. Apple is wise in this regard. 

Another critical factor to consider is that the mythical FC candidate can (and frequently does) drop in the “rankings” during the interview process. Your number one guy may not interview so well or look like a good fit. Meanwhile, even if #1 does interview well, someone further down the list does even better and appears a better overall choice, moving into the coveted FC slot. 

In the end, of course, Mr. Papermaster was Apple’s “first choice”, because unless you do it badly — and I don’t think Apple does — the FC is ultimately the one to which you offer the job.