In the first of several articles profiling key leaders in the mobile industry, we examine how Tim Cook has shaped Apple since taking over the leadership role from Steve Jobs.
Tim Cook runs the most successful consumer electronics company in the world – one of the titans of the mobile industry that generates huge profits from hit products like the iPhone, iPad and the Mac. The Apple that Cook runs today has come a long way from the struggling, almost bankrupt company that Jobs found when he returned to power in 1997.
In his previous role as Chief Operating Officer from 2007 onwards, Cook was widely regarded as one of the undisputed masters of supply chain management, helping Apple conduct the complex symphony of Asian suppliers that manufacture components found in most of the company’s products.
Cook is known to be a workaholic who wakes up around 4 a.m. every day, then spends several hours emailing, and consistently obsesses over the minutiae. That doesn’t leave much time for a social life, so it’s no surprise not much is known about his life outside of Apple.
In the past he preferred to stay in the background, and appeared to outsiders as the complete antithesis of Jobs: quiet, unassuming, rational and always calm. His southern drawl is reassuring, pleasant and often persuasive; he doesn’t bully people into agreeing with him – he wins them over.
You can only do so many things great, and you should cast aside everything else – Tim Cook.
However, Cook and Jobs shared many traits, such as an unblinking assuredness in their beliefs, opinions and values. While Jobs was known to frequently lose his temper in meetings and had little patience for anyone who didn’t seek perfection, Cook has a reputation for being steely-eyed, calm and collected. One of the oft-cited anecdotes about Cook is that he will sit in meetings without saying a word, eating a bar of chocolate or playing with a pen whilst staring intently at the person talking.
An article in Business Insider last year presented several claims from a book about Apple by Yukari Iwatani Kane (an ex Wall Street Journal reporter), who said that: “Cook also knew the power of silence. He could do more with a pause than Jobs ever could with an epithet. When someone was unable to answer a question, Cook would sit without a word while people stared at the table and shifted in their seats”.
There are plenty more insights into Cook in Kane’s book “Haunted Empire: Apple after Steve Jobs”. Here are some of the most interesting:
- He had an “inhuman” level of stamina. He would spend days in Asia, return to California, and head straight to work
- He wakes up every morning at 4-5 a.m. He works out, then heads to the office. He eats protein bars all day and has simple meals like chicken and rice
- His hobbies are rock climbing and mountain biking
- He’s generous. He volunteers at soup kitchens, he gives away frequent flier miles as presents, and he’s participated in bike rides to raise money for charity
- Cook eats in Apple’s cafeteria and introduces himself to employees he doesn’t know
- Cook values “collegiality and teamwork” in comparison to Jobs who “reveled in divisiveness”
A new Apple under Cook?
Since Cook became CEO, he has repeatedly come under fire from the press, investors (such as Carl Icahn, who has repeatedly pressed for Apple to buy back more shares), and even the Apple faithful. Suffering from the inevitable comparison with Jobs, there has been intense debate whether Cook actually has the capability to take Apple forward with new products, innovation and continued growth.
As long as people invent their own stuff, I love competition – Tim Cook
But under Cook’s charge the Apple share price reached an all time high, the company value grew to almost $700 billion (it’s expected to become the world’s first trillion dollar company within the next few years), and they sold record breaking numbers of the latest iPhone, which makes the largest contribution to the company’s bottom line. So as the figures go, Tim Cook and his team appear to be handling things rather well.
Perhaps the biggest turnaround in Cook’s credibility came when he personally announced the Apple Watch in September 2014: a moment that he appeared to revel in. That was his chance to demonstrate to the world that it’s his Apple now, and that they haven’t lost their innovative spark. It was indeed a wonderful moment – the “just one more thing…” announcement helped cement Cook’s leadership and win over many who doubted he was the right man for the job.
Within Apple itself, he also has an exceptional level of support. Recently, UBS Evidence Lab polled employees at many of the biggest tech firms to evaluate their workplace. The survey found Apple was by far the leader amongst the companies surveyed, taking first place in all categories. Cook is also rated higher among employees than the rest of the company’s management team.
Apple has also undergone many changes that reflect Cook’s management style and ethical beliefs. For example greater transparency in terms of what Apple is doing in its environmental program, its supplier responsibility programmes, and more openness with the press. Cook’s more approachable and open style was demonstrated when Apple launched its native Maps app. Apple’s reputation suffered as many considered it a half baked product compared to Google Maps, but Cook swiftly issued an apology and made sweeping management changes to oust those responsible. While Jobs may have done the latter, it’s doubtful he would have done the former (recall the iPhone “Antennae-gate” incident where Jobs’ advice was to “hold the phone differently” – it took quite some time to actually acknowledge any sort of issue).
An infusion of new blood and ideas
After winning the Financial Times’ Person of the Year in 2014, it was clear that he is confounding the pundits who bet against him. The Times highlighted Cook’s “infusion of new blood and ideas into the company as one of the driving forces behind Apple’s big year”, as well as implementing his own values and priorities at the company, changes to how Apple manages its financial side, and a new focus on social issues as some of the biggest moments.
The FT also highlighted Cook’s hiring methods including several high profile roles for women (such as Angela Arhendts as Senior Vice President of Retail and Online Sales), in positions traditionally dominated by men. The $3 billion Beats acquisition (which included Beats Music and Beats Electronics) was also noted, in addition to the huge success of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and of course the forthcoming Apple Watch.
2015 and beyond
There is no doubt Apple is a different company under Tim Cook. Some would say a kinder, gentler one. This year should see the launch of important new products at Apple, and updates to the current lineup. But in terms of innovation, the Apple Watch is what Tim Cook will be judged by more than anything. As the first truly new product he has overseen from inception to delivery, there’s quite a lot riding on the success of Apple’s foray into smart watches. If it becomes a success, and especially if the company reaches the $1 trillion valuation mark, Cook will go down in Apple’s history as a worthy successor that led the company to great new heights.
We look forward to seeing what 2015 will bring, both for Apple and Tim Cook.