When Steve Jobs died in 2011 it sent shockwaves throughout Silicon Valley. His death left an empty void on one of the world’s most powerful, and popular brands. Wall Street speculation over the future of Apple was all-too gloomy as an unknown Auburn graduate and industrial engineer took the thrown.
Steve Jobs had led some of Apple’s biggest innovations, from the Mac to the iPhone; he was profoundly driven to hardware perfection that upended the market. Mr. Cook, who over the years would redefine Apple to be a reflection of himself; cautious, yet bold, but at the same time considerate and collaborative.
Mr. Cook who leads a trillion-dollar company will without a doubt come under scrutiny with every move and word he utters. But, he’s also a man of incredible privacy, a man who from his internal handling of Apple to personal life we know little of. But, we just learned a lot more.
A brand new pay-walled profile of Mr. Cook by The Wall Street Journal recounts how Mr. Cook has changed Apple’s internal operations, business, and speaks to former employees and associates about the CEO. The profile, nearly taking 18 minutes to fully read aloud shares interesting tidbits from the past years. We’ve gone through the profile and below discuss some of its most intriguing revelations about what it calls “Tim Cook’s Apple.”
“Don’t ask what I would do. Do what’s right.”- Steve Jobs
As Mr. Cook took the throne in 2011 he understood the gravity on his shoulders. Questions lingered over whether he would continue on the path that Steve had set Apple on, or whether he would divert to his own vision of the company. While Mr. Cook had been working at Apple long-before his shift to CEO, Steve’s decision to choose Tim as his successor wasn’t a coincidence.
Mr. Cook as COO (Chief Operating Officer) led an internal division that was completely free of drama and disputes but instead focused on collaboration. Despite his ability to maintain a drama-free environment and lead internal projects, too many at Apple, his ascend to CEO came as a surprise, as Steve told his biographer Walter Isaacson “Tim wasn’t a product person.”
His ascend to CEO following Steve’s death became clear to many at Apple. The company needed someone new, fresh, and bold to take over after losing an international icon. As the realization of the change at Apple settled in, Mr. Cook found himself to be a stranger to Apple’s “creative endeavors,” that encompassed bold and sometimes revolutionary design changes for each new release. Instead, Mr. Cook planned small steps, incremental upgrades for product releases that each time added another layer to the fortress of Apple devices and services.
“This is what most people don’t understand: Incremental is revolutionary for Apple,” said Chris Deaver, who spent four years in human resources working with Apple’s research and development teams. “Once they enter a category with a simply elegant solution, they can start charting the course and owning that space. No need to break speed records, just do it organically.”The Wall Street Journal
Steve knew as he passed the baton over to Tim that he would face pressure to only do things that Steve himself would approve, or do. Mr. Jobs told Tim: “Don’t ask what I would do. Do what’s right.” And to much effect, Tim listened.
He continued waking up each morning before 4 a.m. and reviewing global sales data. He maintained his Friday meeting with operations and finance staff, which team members called “date night with Tim” because they stretched hours into the evening. He seldom visited Apple’s design studio, a place Mr. Jobs visited almost daily.The Wall Street Journal
In an interview with ESPN in 2017 Tim said that what he needed to do was not to mimic or try to be like Steve and that if he or anyone would try, they’d fail. Instead, he needed to be himself, chart his own-course for Apple, and follow through with it.
“I knew what I needed to do was not to mimic him,” Mr. Cook told ESPN of Mr. Jobs during a 2017 visit at his alma mater, Auburn University in Alabama. “I would fail miserably at that, and I think this is largely the case for many people who take a baton from someone larger than life. You have to chart your own course. You have to be the best version of yourself.”The Wall Street Journal
Working in “Tim Cook’s Apple”
Mr. Jobs, through his successes, had his flaws, one being his reported creation of a sometimes harsh and demanding work environment. Mr. Cook however has created a more relaxing tone in the office, but, remains demanding and as detailed oriented as Steve was. Once when Apple mistakenly shipped 25 Macs to South Korea instead of Japan, Mr. Cook was furious that the minor misstep for a company that ships 200 million iPhones around the world should have been avoided according to a former employee who spoke to the Journal.
That same employee recalls Tim saying “We’re losing our commitment to excellence” after the incident. Mr. Cook’s annoyance to a minor misstep for the context of a $1 trillion company shows how detailed and perfection focused he is. At internal meetings, Mr. Cook relentlessly pushes for detail, asking questions, almost interrogating employees over the topic at hand. Employees prior to entering meetings with Tim are in fear that something may happen, or that’ll they’ll get caught-up in Tim’s “interrogation.”
“The first question is: ‘Joe, how many units did we produce today?’ ‘It was 10,000.’ ‘What was the yield?’ ‘98%.’ You can answer those and then he’d say, ‘Ok, so 98%, explain how the 2% failed?’ You’d think, ‘F—, I don’t know.’ It drives a level of detail so everyone becomes Cook-like,” said Joe O’Sullivan, a former Apple operations executive.The Wall Street Journal
Today, employees get screened by middle mangers before meeting with Tim. Employees are checked to be knowledgeable and aware of the topic, a former manager says “It’s about protecting your team and protecting him. You don’t waste his time.” If Tim feels that someone is wasting his time, or is insufficient in their work, he simply says “Next,” and moves to the next slide, sometimes leading people to leave meetings crying.
Tim’s unusual approach to managing employees mixed in with his different stance on product releases sometimes meant missing out on big events. The Wall Street Journal reports that Tim had missed a screening of an early Apple Watch prototype design in 2012 amongst other top executives, from the profile:
In late 2012, Mr. Cook was absent when Apple’s senior leadership gathered at the St. Regis hotel in San Francisco to review an early prototype of the Apple Watch, its first new product after Mr. Jobs, according to people in attendance.
Such an absence from a new product discussion would have been unthinkable for Mr. Jobs, associates say. But as Apple continued to rake in record profits, Mr. Cook began to turn his focus toward investors who wanted to know what he would do with an ever-growing pile of cash.The Wall Street Journal
Apple’s Push into Smart Speakers
As Amazon worked on its Amazon Echo Smart speakers in 2015, Apple was lagging behind. Tim pushes for a more hands-off approach to product development, instead he pushes for designers, software/hardware engineers, and others to work together.
In 2015 Apple’s hardware chief Dan Riccio approached Tim about a potential rival to the Echo smart speaker, in response, Tim showered Riccio with question after question on the product, seemingly brushing it away as unimportant. In response, Dan’s team scaled back work on what would be known as the HomePod.
An unspecified time later, Mr. Cook emailed Dan asking him where Apple stands on a smart-speaker in response to Amazon Echo’s growing popularity. After initially scaling back the project, this time Dan’s teamed scaled up HomePod development, resulting in its release in 2018. Dan who worked closely with Steve who typically gave thumbs up or down approval for products, unlike Mr. Cook.
Mr. Deaver, a front-end Apple employee who is aware of interactions between the Dan and Tim, told the Journal,
“Here’s Dan, who was used to getting firm direction, so if it feels like a yellow light, then it looks like a red light,” said Mr. Deaver, who said he spearheaded a project to improve internal collaboration. “Then you have Tim, who is a processor. He likes to listen a lot. Time and patience are his favorite warriors.”The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Cook’s approach to new products is assessing them with caution, insisting Apple will not release a product that will do poorly with customers and possibly undermine the companies success. But, Tim’s cautious and fear of messing up approach creates a risk for future developments in products, or at least according to former Apple software engineer John Burkey.
“Apple seems to be hitting on all cylinders, but beyond the hardware team achieving new performance gains, there’s a stagnation and incrementalism,” said John Burkey, a former Apple software engineer and founder of Brighten.ai, a virtual-assistant company. He added that Apple’s strong hold on customers who continue to buy new iPhones masks weaknesses and creates a risk that they may miss the next evolution in technology. “Ask yourself what feature of the iPhone you use that you weren’t using five years ago? Do you actually use Animoji?”The Wall Street Journal
Tim’s Different, and That’s Okay
One thing is clear from the profile, Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs. And that’s okay. While some may criticize Apple for veering off the course that Steve put it on, it’s important to remember that every CEO has their own vision. Tim, as he said himself is not trying to mimic Steve, instead, is creating his own future for Apple.
The profile by the Journal goes into detail on additional topics such as Tim Cook’s careful balance of politics and technology, dealing with President Trump and coming out as gay, and more. It’s an interesting and telling piece offering a unique perspective on Apple from the inside, at the highest level.