Barack Obama has won the TIMES Person Of The Year award for the second time in four years. However, this is a Tech blog, hence I would like to focus on the Runner-Up – Apple’s CEO Tim Cook.
The TIMES has published a very insightful profile on the man that was chosen to take over from the legendary Steve Jobs. The piece outlines Cook’s academic background, his previous jobs and what makes him tick.
On Succeeding Steve Jobs at Apple
This clearly bothered Steve Jobs, because he spoke to Cook about it shortly before he died. “Steve wanted the CEO transition to be professional,” Cook says. “That was his top thing when he decided to become chairman. I had every reason to believe, and I think he thought, that that was going to be in a long time.” As we now know, it wasn’t.
As long as he was handpicking his successor, you’d think Jobs would have chosen someone in his own image, but he and Cook, who was Jobs’ COO at Apple, are in a lot of ways diametrical opposites. Jobs was loud, brash, unpredictable, uninhibited and very often unshaven. Cook isn’t. He doesn’t look like the CEO of Apple, he looks more like an Apple product: quiet, tidy, carefully curated, meticulously tooled and at the same time strangely warm and inviting. He doesn’t look like Jobs, he looks like something Jobs would have made. Cook’s flawless cap of white hair could have been designed by Jony Ive and fabricated in China out of brushed aluminium.
Cook the workaholic
Like Jobs, Cook suffers fools neither gladly nor in any other way (except when he has to, i.e., when talking to journalists). Behind the scenes, that measured calm can — if the legends are true — become a merciless coldness that roots out confusion and incompetence. “I’ve always felt that a part of leadership is conveying a sense of urgency in dealing with key issues,” he says. “Apple operates at an extreme pace, and my experience has been that key issues rarely get smaller on their own.” The definitive Tim Cook anecdote involves a meeting he once called about a crisis in China that required a hands-on solution. After 30 minutes, he looked at one executive and said, “Why are you still here?” The man — a sense of urgency having been successfully conveyed — immediately left the meeting, drove directly to the airport and flew to China, without even a change of clothes.
Cook on teaming up with Jobs
Cook was interested in Jobs’ strategy, which he describes using a favorite Cook expression, doubling down: “It was the polar opposite of everyone else’s. He was doubling down on consumer when everybody else was going into enterprise. And I thought it was genius. Compaq was doing so poorly in consumer, didn’t have a clue how to do consumer. IBM had left. Everybody was kind of concluding that consumer business is a loser, and here Steve is betting the company on it.”
It wasn’t just what they were doing at Apple, it was how they were doing it. The culture was different. “I loved the fact that I could disagree with Steve and he wasn’t offended by it.” For his part, Jobs must have seen something in Cook that wasn’t obvious to anybody else: the maverick, the outsider. “I’ve never thought going the way of the herd was a particularly good strategy,” Cook says. “You can be assured to be at best middle of the pack if you do that. And that’s at best.”
Cook got home on Sunday. Jobs offered him the job on Monday. On Tuesday, Cook resigned from Compaq. The same way Ive became Jobs’ trusted lieutenant on the design side, Cook stepped into that role in the less sexy and consumer-facing but equally vital area of manufacturing and distribution.
As COO, Cook was content to be a wizard in the dark art of supply-chain management. As CEO, Cook has had to decloak, to focus on the very public product side, the way Jobs did. When Cook looks back at 2012, that’s where he puts the emphasis. “It’s the most prolific year of innovation ever,” he says. “If you went back and were to watch a compressed movie of it, it’s amazing the products that have come out.”