NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Last week, Apple ( AAPL) granted several key executives -- including Phil Schiller, Scott Forstall, Peter Oppenheimer, and Bob Mansfield -- large Restricted Stock Unit (RSU) grants that vest over five years. They are essentially golden handcuffs that highly motivate these men to stick around in this post-Steve Jobs era. One senior executive notably absent from the list is Jony Ive. I hope it doesn't portend Ive's departure. We'll see some SEC filing in the coming days or weeks about a similar grant to him.
Jony Ive is the key product and design person at Apple. In Walter Isaacson's book on Steve Jobs, it's clear how important Jony is at Apple. Jobs' wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, said of the special bond between Steve and Jony: "A lot of people in Steve's are replaceable. Not Jony." Jobs held Jony in very high regard. He rescued Jony from the old Apple and convinced him to stay after Jobs came back to the company in 1997. Even though no one outside of Apple had heard of Jony then, the two men formed a special bond and collaborated together on the iMacs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads. Jony's design lab in Apple's Cupertino headquarters is under lockdown from outside visitors. It's likely that today, in that lab, there are the products that will amaze us from Apple (in some form) for the next 15 years. At the recent company-wide memorial for Jobs at Apple, Jony gave -- in my view -- the best speech about Steve. Jony found it hard when Steve left the company before on his medical leaves. There's a story in Isaacson's book about how Jony met Steve at the airport in Silicon Valley after Steve returned from his liver transplant in Memphis. It's clear that Jony missed him, but was also bothered by the fact that many outside of Apple wondered if the company could be as "innovative" without Steve. Jony took it as a slight. I hope that Jony now has his time to shine in the sun over the next several years at Apple -- along with all the other talented Apple executives.
It does worry me that Jony wasn't included with the other Apple execs in the grants last week. I had heard rumors -- just rumors - six to 12 months ago that Jony was contemplating leaving Apple to return home to the U.K. to be with family. I also heard rumors that the board and Steve were working very hard to keep him. Given the closeness between Ive and Steve, I would expect that Jony would stick around for the foreseeable future at Apple to help cement the company post-Steve. But we will all have to wait and see. One of the things that made Steve great -- it comes through in the biography clearly -- was that he's always been exceptional at spotting talent that isn't the typical way most companies (including Google ( GOOG) think about talent. He had a much more egalitarian eye for talent based of raw ability. He also saw people's strengths and weaknesses. One of Tim Cook's weaknesses he points out to Isaacson is that he's "not a product person." That's true and that's why Tim and Apple need Jony even more than if Tim was. I hope he stays.