When tossing around the names of Apple's top brass, Cue's name rarely pops up, but it should, argues Apple veteran Chuq von Rospach, because he's "as important to Apple's success as [industrial design chief] Jonathan Ive." His forte: mapping out the back-end infrastructures that make the company's "online universe tick."
Those who are familiar with Cue know him for managing the iTunes Store to resounding global success, but he was also a force behind .Mac and the ever popular Apple Online Store. "It's the not-sexy part of the company, but it's the guts that make all of the sexy front ends actually work," says von Rospach, who crossed paths with Cue during his years of managing Apple's email lists.
Cue's teams have long been self-contained, von Rospach adds, spending most of their time in "uncharted territory," implementing technology that never existed before on large scales "under really scary conditions." Over the years, he's earned the respect of Steve Jobs by delivering projects on time, to specification, all while keeping "the darn thing(s) a secret" in the process.
Cue is one of few who've proven up to the task of meeting the stringent demands of Jobs, which isn't easy, von Rospach explains. That's landed him the opportunity to work under the command of one of the most methodical minds in the industry while testing his hand at some "really great stuff," which can quickly become "addictive."
His secret is to surround himself with equals who are "just as maniacal" about their work, and who accept the absence of middle ground and the constant aura of "burnout."
"Eddy's no easier to work with than Steve is, for obvious reasons," says von Rospach. "I invariably warned people not to hire into his groups unless they wanted to donate their life to the cause."
Cue's latest challenge, as revealed in an email from Jobs to Apple employees earlier this week, is to rescue MobileMe from the mistakes that plagued its launch, repair its tarnished reputation, and steer it down a path that the company can be "proud of by the end of this year."
Like Jobs, von Rospach expresses confidence in the Cue's ability to succeed. He argues that, contrary to popular opinion, it's not that Apple lacks the expertise to run an internet service on the scale of MobileMe -- it already runs the largest global single-instance SAP environment for iTunes -- it's more about "the MobileMe people blowing it."
Of course, some of the responsibility for MobileMe's failure also lies with Jobs, who has the final say on which products his company launches and which it does not.
"He's never been afraid to say 'this ain't ready' and pull something from release," von Rospach notes. "His rehearsals for MacWorld Keynotes are legendary (and sometimes brutal), and stuff literally has disappeared in the last 24 hours, if he wasn't satisfied with it."
There is one caveat, however: Jobs was trusting and depending on someone to offer up the truth about MobileMe, and whether it was truly ready for prime time. And the person who told him it was ready to roll was obviously dead wrong, which caused considerable embarrassment for both Jobs and the company as a whole.
"Steve and Apple aren't terribly tolerant of that kind of major screwup," says von Rospach. "Just imagine Steve Jobs wandering the hall with a flame thrower in hand, asking random people 'do you work on MobileMe?'"
"The thing wasn't ready and the release got botched," he says. "And now Eddy has been brought in to fix it, which means it's going to get fixed."