% fortune -ae paul murphy

Speculation on Papermaster's "huh?": IBM, Apple, and Freescale

A PPC expert named Mark Papermaster worked at IBM for 26 years, made it to the role of vice president for blade server development while earning international recognition for his ability to maintain current technical expertise while swimming the murky, and rather shark infested, waters of top IBM management, and then suddenly quit to take an advisory role at Apple.

He didn't just quit, either. According to an IBM lawsuit (PDF) filed by IBM to enforce a perfectly straight forward non compete agreement, other senior people at IBM met with him on October 20th (2008) to offer him a significant compensation increase to stay; and, failing that, offered to continue his salary for the year his non competition agreement prevented him from taking the job at Apple.

A day later, on October 21st, he resigned effective October 24th, and announced that he would start at Apple in November.

To say that this is absurd on its face is to be polite: the non competition agreement looks simple with the only obvious weasel being to argue that Apple isn't an IBM competitor - except, of course, that it is: IBM still has an active interest in the PC business, makes the CPUs for all three major gaming platforms, and competes directly for the few xServe sales Apple still makes.

Why then would a sane and serious senior executive, presumably advised by equally sane and serious Apple lawyers, do something so flagrantly in violation of his contract?

My answer is that Apple is getting ready to either take over, or displace, Freescale; and therefore that the plan isn't to have Papermaster move to Cupertino, but rather just across the street in Austin.

He's the right man for the job - and Apple's future PPC plans clearly need a company of Freescale's size and technical depth if they're to make single chip notephones and advanced sensors - but his contract with IBM makes it impossible for him to take it now while simply sitting out a year puts him too far behind on contacts and technology to do the job.

So what I think we'll see as the bottom line on this is a settlement with Apple that doesn't let him go to Apple - but does let him take the top job at Freescale or a company Apple creates as the manufacturing and distribution arm to its PA Semi acquisition.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.