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Apple hires Joel Podolny

Via John Gruber comes news that Apple has hired Joel Podolny away from his position as Dean of Yale’s Business School to lead a project called “Apple University”. The Wall Street Journal says:

The Cupertino, Calif., computer maker said Joel Podolny, the dean of the Yale School of Management, will join Apple as vice president and dean of Apple University. The company declined to provide details about the university or the position. Mr. Podolny will be stepping down as dean on Nov. 1, but will stay at Yale until year end, a spokeswoman for Yale said. She said Mr. Podolny will take up his new position in early 2009.

I wonder what the backstory is here. Maybe some of or readers (or contributors, ahem) know more about Apple’s plans. But it’s interesting to see Podolny get hired by a company that knows a great deal about the importance of status in establishing and maintaining a good position in the market. Consider just the back-cover summary of Podolny’s excellent Status Signals in light of Apple’s position in the market:

Why are elite jewelers reluctant to sell turquoise, despite strong demand? Why did leading investment bankers shun junk bonds for years, despite potential profits? Status Signals is the first major sociological examination of how concerns about status affect market competition. Starting from the basic premise that status pervades the ties producers form in the marketplace, Joel Podolny shows how anxieties about status influence whom a producer does (or does not) accept as a partner, the price a producer can charge, the ease with which a producer enters a market, how the producer’s inventions are received, and, ultimately, the market segments the producer can (and should) enter. To achieve desired status, firms must offer more than strong past performance and product quality–they must also send out and manage social and cultural signals. Through detailed analyses of market competition across a broad array of industries–including investment banking, wine, semiconductors, shipping, and venture capital–Podolny demonstrates the pervasive impact of status. Along the way, he shows how corporate strategists, tempted by the profits of a market that would negatively affect their status, consider not only whether to enter the market but also whether they can alter the public’s perception of the market.

Of course, I don’t know what Joel will be doing in his new job, but the fit here seems obvious. You can’t follow developments in the computer industry at all closely without being surprised by the persistently boneheaded advice that analysts and commentators push about Apple, almost all of which involves recommendations that the company do things that would eliminate its ability to differentiate itself from its competitors or compete in segments of the market that would preclude it from being seen as distinctive in any way. Podolny examines status dynamics in an area where most analysis focuses on profit opportunities and market share. It’s not hard to see why Apple might feel someone with this point of view understands what they are all about.

Written by Kieran

October 23, 2008 at 5:55 pm

10 Responses

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  1. Sounds fascinating. Wonder if Apple U will be the like the GM school – in house management training – or more like Bell Labs, a hot house for smart folks.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    October 23, 2008 at 6:09 pm

  2. I’ll bet its the latter. (Seems to be what google is doing as well.)

    Like

    tf

    October 23, 2008 at 6:51 pm

  3. Maybe some of or readers (or contributors, ahem) know more about Apple’s plans.

    If you’re talking about me, I had to learn this from OrgTheory…and Husband is now in the dog house.

    Like

    tina

    October 24, 2008 at 1:55 am

  4. I think it will be something new – neither GM nor Bell Labs. If it was something such as in-house research training or a research institute, surely you would not need to poach a Yale dean (salary included) to run it.

    Like

    Keith

    October 24, 2008 at 6:59 pm

  5. Reminds me of Ron Burt’s stint at Raytheon…

    mmm… academicians as administrators…

    This alliance development sounds more like value homophily (i.e., the values that Joel and the folks at Apple like Steve Jobs share about status) than it is like status homophily… unlike what Joel would have predicted in his papers ;D

    Like

    Rajiv Krishnan Kozhikode

    October 25, 2008 at 5:49 pm

  6. Rajiv,

    Although I agree that most academics are suspect administrators, there are exceptions — Gary Loveman at Harrah’s being an example. And having seen Joel in action at Stanford Business School — where being an associate dean is damn hard — I would bet on him doing a great job. Joel has true wisdom and the ability to listen, and he takes risks.

    Bob Sutton

    Like

    Bob Sutton

    November 3, 2008 at 4:04 am

  7. […] a comment » A while back, we reported that Yale b-school dean and network sociologist Joel Podolny was hired to head the new “Apple Unive…” Anyone know the status of that project? Or even what Apple U is supposed to be? Is it in […]

    Like

  8. […] Org Theory points to the back cover of Podolny’s Status Signals [Amazon] and gives a hint – Jobs is hoping to continue and formalize the corporate culture that he singularly created and enforced.   […]

    Like

    | Social Proof

    October 11, 2011 at 1:48 pm

  9. […] Org Theory points to the back cover of Podolny’s Status Signals[Amazon] and gives a hint – Jobs is hoping to continue and formalize the corporate culture that he singularly created and enforced. Why are elite jewelers reluctant to sell turquoise, despite strong demand? Why did leading investment bankers shun junk bonds for years, despite potential profits? Status Signals is the first major sociological examination of how concerns about status affect market competition. Starting from the basic premise that status pervades the ties producers form in the marketplace, Joel Podolny shows how anxieties about status influence whom a producer does (or does not) accept as a partner, the price a producer can charge, the ease with which a producer enters a market, how the producer’s inventions are received, and, ultimately, the market segments the producer can (and should) enter. To achieve desired status, firms must offer more than strong past performance and product quality–they must also send out and manage social and cultural signals. Through detailed analyses of market competition across a broad array of industries–including investment banking, wine, semiconductors, shipping, and venture capital–Podolny demonstrates the pervasive impact of status. Along the way, he shows how corporate strategists, tempted by the profits of a market that would negatively affect their status, consider not only whether to enter the market but also whether they can alter the public’s perception of the market. […]

    Like

    Jobs 101 – Trading 8s

    October 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm


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