Is iPad designer Jony Ive unhappy at Apple?
Friends say Apple’s chief designer is homesick for England - and the computer giant’s bosses aren’t happy
With Steve Jobs on a medical leave of absence while he seeks treatment for cancer, Apple could be facing another empty seat in its boardroom - at least for part of the working week.
Jonathan Ive, Apple's senior vice president of industrial design, is credited with designing the technology company's most iconic devices: the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. But if a report in yesterday's Sunday Times is accurate, Englishman Ive is homesick for his £2.5m Georgian manor house in Somerset and wants to commute from there to Silicon Valley.
According to the report, 'friends' say Ive, 43, is 'at loggerheads' with the Apple board who want him to remain in the United States - no doubt concerned at what a 5,000-mile commute would do to their top designer's creative juices.
Jobs's medical condition makes Ive's presence even more vital for Apple - especially with a large minority of shareholders keen for the company to publish a succession plan in order to ensure investors that all will be well in the event that the CEO has to leave for good.
One friend said of Ive: "Unfortunately he is just too valuable to Apple and they told him in no uncertain terms that if he headed back to England he would not be able to sustain his position with them."
Ive, whose motto is 'Sorry, no beige', joined Apple in 1992 and was installed as head of the industrial design team in 1996, shortly before Steve Jobs returned to the company after a five-year exile. Two years later, the colourful, oval-shaped iMac was introduced - an instant design classic.
Ive's department followed up with the iPod, a device that reinvented the personal stereo, before producing the similarly 'game-changing' iPhone and iPad.
Ive is apparently expecting an £18m payout thanks to a deal struck with Apple three years ago, when he paid £7m for a pile of shares in the company that are now worth £25m. But some may ask what is the point of all that money if you can't spend it because you work a 70-hour week.
Apple rarely comments on any aspect of its business - least of all succession issues - and it is making no exception with Ive.
But any hint that Apple's chief designer is unhappy in his work will encourage rivals to start sniffing around. Although many other companies have tried to combine a flair for design with seamless function, none have so far succeeded to the extent that Apple has - and Ive could doubtless command a king's ransom for his services.
Happily for Apple, when contemplating his future in an interview with the BBC in 2002, Ive made no mention of rival tech firms, saying: "Perhaps I'd like to design cars, but I don't think I'd be much good at it." ·