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Monday, March 09, 2009, 04:00 pm PT (07:00 pm ET)

Apple laying off 50 sales staff due to economy, enterprise

After making itself appear impervious to economic conditions, Apple has reportedly shown 50 enterprise sales workers the exit in a low-key move that refocuses the company.

The Mac maker is said by CNET News to have kept quiet and let go of some Cupertino-based employees, as well as a whole sales division in Austin, by bringing the affected employees into meeting rooms last week and giving them the notices with security guards in tow.

In both cases, the layoffs took place for "business and economic reasons," though these aren't tied to poor sales or any other systemic problems within the group itself. Instead, they centered on a shift in Apple's strategy for its enterprise sales. Since putting former Americas reseller head John Brandon at the front of the division, the company has reduced the demand on its own end by giving Ingram Micro and other resellers the bulk of the responsibility for pitching Macs to businesses.

The company also didn't preclude any of those facing a forced departure and has offered them the chance to be rehired within Apple.

Even so, Apple has been particularly cautious about mentioning the staff reductions despite an economy where layoffs have been commonplace: both after early, unverified rumors and the most recent report, Apple spokes people have publicly declined to comment rather than acknowledge the headcount change.

The hesitation to report the maneuver is believed to stem both from Apple's historically secretive attitude as well as investors that are already extremely sensitive to any signs of doubt. Apple has rarely disclosed more about its employees than legally required and was only pressured into making statements on Steve Jobs' health after his medical leave made the announcement necessary. As the number of layoffs in the enterprise sales division wasn't large enough to require a public announcement, Apple is thought to have taken the same approach as for Jobs and kept silent in hopes that shareholders wouldn't take notice.

While such a claim would be difficult to verify on its own, Apple is already known to have been taking great pains to avoid laying off staff even when the full impact of the economic crisis became evident late last year. At retail, the company has reduced employee hours, made Creative and Studio workers multitask, and otherwise sought ways to cut costs without conspicuous layoffs or pay rate drops.

As such, cuts within internal groups like the enterprise branch — as well as unverified rumors of cuts in the Mac hardware group — are expected to be particularly sore points for Apple.