NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Back in May, financial journalist Heidi Moore tweeted something about Scott Forstall selling a bunch of his Apple (AAPL - Get Report) shares.
In fact, he sold 95% of his position. That netted him $38.7 million (about $585 per share, or 3% below where it closed on Friday).
Heidi tweeted some commentary at the time with a link to the story along the lines of: "Wow, this is not a good sign."
It turns out she was right.As someone who owns the stock, and a fan of the existing management team, I remember wracking my brain at the time for what Forstall might have been thinking. I know executives have all sorts of reasons for selling stock on the open market. It's usually not a good long-term signal for where the stock is going -- unless it's Angelo Mozilo at Countrywide in 2007 -- and says more about their personal financial needs. Academic research has shown that stock purchases by insiders are much more predictive of future stock movements than stock sales. What's more, Forstall still had 100,000 restricted stock units (RSUs) granted in 2010 that were scheduled to fully vest in 2014. And last year, after co-founder Steve Jobs died, Apple's board approved handing out even more restricted stock units to the management team to keep them in place. As part of that, Forstall, 43 years old, got 150,000 more RSUs. Half of these were to vest in 2013. The remainder vested in 2016. His sale of 95% of his shares in May were for 64,000 company shares. So, even though almost $40 million is a lot of money, his 64,000 shares were only 20% of his shareholdings when you took the remaining unvested RSUs into account. So I think I tried to reason with Heidi along those lines that Forstall's sales were no big deal in that context. But I may have been really wrong. Maybe the stock sales did signal Forstall was really upset with how things were going under Tim Cook's leadership in the post-Jobs era. The spin coming out of Apple since Forstall was fired was that the decision was only recently made. So presumably Forstall was planning on staying. And he gave a strong presentation at WWDC in June, notably touting the coming Apple Maps and the updated version of Siri (to big cheers at the time). On the surface, he didn't appear to be "checked out." It's also interesting that Bob Mansfield announced his retirement (at 51!) in June. Now he's back and promoted while Forstall's gone. Although everyone talks about bad blood between Jony Ive and Forstall, maybe Mansfield was also upset with him. We will never know, unless CEO Tim Cook or Forstall reveal the full story. But it is amazing that Forstall walked away from his unvested RSUs through all this. He'll get some severance to ease the pain, but he's left behind 350,000 RSUs when he left Cupertino, Calif. At current prices, that's worth $210 million. If Apple goes to $1,650 by 2015, as I think it will, he will have walked away from nearly $600 million. I'm sure he's going to be hotly pursued by all of Apple's competitors and land a fabulous stock package. However, I'm sure no one will give him half a billion dollars. Whether Forstall or Cook is to blame, or a combination of both, I would have worked a little harder at making a great job at a great company work if I were Scott Forstall. The author has a position in Apple.