updated 11:26 am EDT, Thu May 24, 2012
Lashinsky notes style, policy changes at Apple
Apple CEO Tim Cook is on the cover of this week's Fortune Magazine with a story by Inside Apple author Adam Lashinsky profiling the intensely private CEO and noting some of the changes -- some subtle, some not -- introduced by Cook early in his tenure as head of the world's most valuable company. Lashinsky's story posits that in some ways, Apple is becoming a more "traditional" company under Cook.
The company is seen as more investor and business-community friendly than it was under former CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs, who often (particularly during his struggle with cancer) didn't have much time for shareholders. Jobs once joked at an Apple annual meeting that the only thing that keeps him awake at night was "shareholder meetings," whereas Cook has appeared at investor "dog and pony shows" and brokerage-led tech conferences for several years, even before formally becoming CEO.
Lashinsky also points to things like more Apple staffers who reference the term "MBA" in their LinkedIn resumes, now approaching 10 percent of its non-retail workforce -- most of whom have been with the company less than two years, during which time it was Cook, not Jobs, who focused on day-to-day operations. Mergers and acquisitions are now handled by a traditional corporate-development staff rather than (primarily) Jobs, his lead negotiator Eddy Cue and former Goldman Sachs banker Adrian Perica.
Though Cook has been seen to make some changes to Apple's corporate infrastructure as befits one the world's leading corporations, there are also signs that he has been equally zealous in trying to preserve Jobs' culture of innovation and creativity among the engineering, design and software teams. Sir Jonathan Ive and his team are still allowed to operate with minimal interference, and Cook speaks reverently about the values Jobs "drilled into all of us" referring to the executive team, which is mostly unchanged since Jobs' death in October of last year. Cook has said repeatedly that his mantra is that great products beget profits, popularity and all the things Apple needs to stay on top.
It's clear to observers that Cook is intent on keeping Apple as a "magical" place where people can do "their life's best work," as he's been quoted as saying. But changes have most definitely been made: in the months leading up to and immediately after Jobs' death, Apple has instituted a more visible charitable contribution-matching program, made big strides towards more transparency and action on numerous environmental issues, and opened up its processes to an unprecedented degree with regards to the health and safety of its China-based workforce and suppliers. Cook even visited China personally in a move that brought a great deal more light and took away some heat from half-fabricated and inaccurate reporting about Foxconn and Apple's relationship.
The article adds little to what is already known about Cook, who while being a bit more public in his appearances remains a very private man. He is described by numerous executives as "down to earth," "disarming" and "detail-oriented." Employees describe him as very respected and a tough boss, but not mercurial and less "revered." He topped this year's Glassdoor CEO list.
Cook is known to talk about some of his earliest job experiences, including working at a paper mill in Alabama and an aluminum plant in Virginia. He told analysts that he "can't live" without his Apple TV and is a perpetual advocate for it, but has also joked that if something was on TV and wasn't on "CNBC or ESPN," he hadn't seen it. He often sits down randomly with various Apple employees in the cafeteria, compared to Jobs' nearly constant dining with Ive.
Under his leadership, the supply chain (which Cook was previously in charge of) has risen in importance, and is now involved at all levels of planning. He has been very pro-active in defending the company's working conditions and use of various suppliers. He tends to vacation at a ranch resort in Arizona where he is often seen dining alone and reading on his iPad.
Other changes are more subtle: he took on the hiring of VP of Retail Ron Johnson's replacement. He raised some executive salaries so that the entire team was on par. He has occasionally complimented rival companies, including Facebook in particular, calling it "the one company that is closest to being like Apple" (a level of praise recently echoed by Steve Wozniak as well) as well as Amazon. He agreed (after years of resistance from Jobs) to a dividend and stock buyback program for stockholders. Apple joined the Fair Labor Association, the first tech firm to do so. The latest iPad was (slightly) thicker than its predecessor.
While many of the changes at Apple may have been in the works for some time prior to Jobs' resignation as CEO and subsequent death, many bear the stamp of Cook, the operations expert obsessed with efficiency. With his canny expertise in manufacturing capability and solid grasp of technology, Cook thus far is looking like a wise choice to replace Jobs as Apple prepares for even more future growth and success.
While Cook makes no pretense of being the kind of non-traditional visionary Jobs was, thus far he has been able to continue fostering an environment of innovation while growing Apple's value and success (the company is up $140 billion in market cap just since October). In short, Cook is doing what Jobs asked him to do: not trying to run the company as Jobs would have, but to build on what Jobs created and find his own path.