About Tim Cook’s Leadership Style

June 17th, 2014

When The New York Times claimed, in that controversial hit piece on Tim Cook, that he took over after the death of Steve Jobs, I realized the writers were out of touch. And that was before reading much else. It’s not that they haven’t covered Apple for years, but they could hardly fail to notice that Jobs famously quit the CEO position on August 24, 2011, at which time Cook took over. Jobs died on October 5 of that year, the day after the introduction of the iPhone 4S.

I suppose you can suggest he hung on for a few weeks to see how Apple was running after his resignation, and, upon watching the keynote and feeling satisfied with the results, felt secure in leaving. That sentence may carry a tinge of mysticism, but it’s not so unusual. My father died on my birthday, the day after I had a relatively long phone conversation with him, where he seemed to want to assure himself that I was happy and my life was moving in a good direction. He evidently felt his job as a parent was over and he could move on.

But I won’t go any further into that subject.

The point is that I find it amazing that the simple truth about when Cook became Apple CEO is being ignored by one of the most prestigious newspapers in the U.S. Besides, it’s not that Cook had no prior experience running the company, since he took that position several times for a number of months when Jobs was on extended sick leave. How soon they forget.

At almost a steady pace since then, tech and financial pundits have been calling for Cook’s ouster. He’s the supply-side guy, not the product guy. How could he possibly know how to run Apple? How could he possibly replace Steve Jobs?

The reality is something different. Jobs was heavily focused on some parts of the company, particularly figuring out the next great gadget and micromanaging the development process, but Cook clearly has a more expansive view.

Some have criticized Cook for the way he’s handled Apple’s financials, with the decisions to grant dividends, engage in stock buybacks and a stock split. It’s not that Apple hasn’t had stock splits before, but not for a while. It’s not that Apple’s stock price hasn’t had its ups and downs, but since the latest episode occurred under Cook’s watch, it must be something bad.

Besides, weren’t all these financial maneuverings simply smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that new products weren’t coming out? Sure, the market has reacted favorably, but still?

Well, you can’t call the Mac Pro a minor product refresh. Building the first 64-bit mobile processor may not seem such a big deal now, but it’s clear from the WWDC that there are long-range plans afoot. Besides, the incredible number of new features for iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, not to mention new developer tools and a more expansive view of access to the system by third-parties, are quite revolutionary for Apple.

And don’t forget opening OS X betas to regular people without having to claim to be a developer and paying a $99 fee.

Would Jobs have done any of that?

But to some, including The New York Times it seems, very little at the WWDC matters. It’s just software, as if these so-called reporters have forgotten that smartphones, tablets and personal computers are just bricks without the software. Is that too difficult a concept to understand? Well, evidently. I mean, some folks still want Apple to license OS X and iOS to other companies. If it’s just the hardware, why would the operating system and apps matter?

It’s foolish to speculate on how Jobs would have functioned had he survived and decided to stay on top. Some suggest he might have stayed on as Chairman of the Board, and become a “chief strategist,” perhaps in the fashion of a Bill Gates, and let Cook run the day-to-day affairs. But I rather doubt that Jobs could keep himself from micromanaging every little detail. With Cook totally in control, nobody looking over his shoulder, he’s been free to make Apple his own. Clearly he never asks what Jobs would have done.

The next few years will be of critical importance to Apple. The products and services Jobs may have approved before his death may already be available, or have been put on the back burner. It’s up to Cook and his team to prove that Apple was never a one-man band.

I think he’s already demonstrated that. But there will still be plenty of skepticism until the first round of all-new products begins to show up. Clearly that wasn’t appropriate for a WWDC, although some suggest the arrival of the iWatch was hinted with HealthKit and HomeKit.

No matter. Even if Apple delivers the rumored iWatch and other stuff, as yet unknown, some won’t be convinced. It’s already being suggested that even selling 10 million or 20 million iWatches wouldn’t be sufficient to seriously impact Apple’s bottom line.

But if a smartwatch refashioned as an Apple gadget is destined to take off, tens of millions may become hundreds of millions before long. But wait — wouldn’t they simply say that the iWatch was something Steve Jobs approved before his death? Oh well, so maybe he’s still running the company from beyond the grave. Right. Sure.

| Print This Article Print This Article

2 Responses to “About Tim Cook’s Leadership Style”

  1. Bill says:

    People have short and selective memories. Jobs was perfect. We’ll the first time he ran Apple he did great and then not so great. Lisa hmmm remember that. Scullery was his hire. Ok so that was the old Jobs the new one eas always right. Hmm the cube…. No App Store hmmm let’s make an ipad pad oops caught that mistake phone first. Let’s give it a wheel like the iPod oooops. Better get this manufacturing and supply chain in order or we go belly up. TIM HELP. Tim save Apple.

    • @Bill, Don’t forget the Power Mac G4 Cube. When the stories came out that it was being discontinued, I heard Jobs tell a reporter, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” A few weeks later, the Cube was discontinued.


Leave Your Comment