Tim Cook's leadership style has 'reshaped how Apple staff work and think'

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 2020
A new profile examines how Apple CEO Tim Cook, with "cautious, collaborative and tactical" leadership, honed the Cupertino tech giant into the world's largest company.

Credit: Apple
Credit: Apple


After the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, both Wall Street and Silicon Valley worried about Apple's future. But, nine years later, Apple's revenue and profits have more than doubled and the company's market valuation is higher than the GDP of Canada, Russia or Spain.

Those gains have been made under the helm of Cook, who succeeded Jobs in August 2011. According to a profile in The Wall Street Journal, the past nine years have seen the tech executive reform Apple to more closely resemble himself.

Compared to Jobs' outspoken devotion to design, Cook is described as much more methodical and focused on finance and social good. Although Apple under Cook has a "more relaxed workplace" environment than Apple under Jobs, staffers said that Cook is similarly "demanding and detail oriented."

The CEO's attention to detail "causes underlings to enter meetings with trepidation." And Cook's precision has "reshaped how Apple staff work and think," the Journal adds.
"Middle managers today screen staff before meetings with Mr. Cook to make sure they're knowledgeable. First-timers are advised not to speak. "It's about protecting your team and protecting him. You don't waste his time," said a longtime lieutenant. If he senses someone is insufficiently prepared, he loses patience and says, "Next," as he flips a page of the meeting agenda, this person said, adding, "people have left crying."
Another time, Cook reportedly got irritated that Apple shipped 25 computers to South Korea instead of Japan. Although some sources said it seemed like a minor accident, Cook warned that "we're losing our commitment to excellence."

The Apple executive rarely visits Apple's design studio, which Jobs frequented. At a 2012 meeting to review an early Apple Watch prototype, Cook was absent. Sources say such an absence would have been unthinkable under Jobs.

Also unlike Jobs, who thought Apple's cash was best directed toward research and development, Cook is much more willing to return cash to investors. In 2013, Cook had a three-hour dinner with Wall Street investor Carl Icahn that ended with dessert consisting of Apple logo cookies.

Colleagues and acquaintances who spoke to the Journal said that Cook was a "humble workaholic with a singular commitment to Apple." Even longtime colleagues rarely socialized with Cook, and former assistants said that he doesn't often partake in personal events.

Apple declined to set up interviews with Cook or senior executives, but "helped arrange calls four phone people it said could speak to areas of importance to Mr. Cook such as environmentalism, education and health."

Of those four employees, one had never met Cook, and the others who spent a combined total of a few hours with the chief executive.

The proof of Apple's shift may be in its products. The company has largely failed to release the type of market-disruptive products that Jobs was famous for.

Instead, Apple has dominated accessories that surround the iPhone -- including the Apple Watch, AirPods and services like Apple Music. The Apple Watch has outsold every other watch in the world, while AirPods made up more than half of all headphones sold in 2019.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 66
    If switching the Mac to AppleSilicon is not disruptive I don’t know what is. The amount of planning and flawless execution in a large number of areas is staggering.
    The article is also minimizing the AirPods when they are in their way just as disruptive as the iPhone and the iPad have been.
    Innovation at Apple is alive and well.
    tokyojimuBeatsmark fearinggregoriusmPascalxxaderutterred oakDAalseththth4y3s
  • Reply 2 of 66
    BeatsBeats Posts: 3,073member
    Tim Cook is the CEO everyone will miss when he's gone. Everyone will see how great he is.

    If switching the Mac to AppleSilicon is not disruptive I don’t know what is. The amount of planning and flawless execution in a large number of areas is staggering.
    The article is also minimizing the AirPods when they are in their way just as disruptive as the iPhone and the iPad have been.
    Innovation at Apple is alive and well.

    The invention of Apple Watch and AirPods were under his clock. Both were statistically more successful than all of Steve's products except iPhone.

    Apple Silicon Macs may be the next revolution in computing since the 1970s.
    mark fearinggregoriusmaderutteranantksundaramjdb8167pat412leavingthebiggmuthuk_vanalingamGG1chasm
  • Reply 3 of 66
    People gloss over 99% of Apple's history under Jobs to claim they were always reinventing the world. I've been an avid follower since 1989 and most years, Apple is just Apple. But always has been committed to excellence. That's the difference.
    wonkothesanegregoriusmaderutterlkruppget seriousjdb8167leavingthebiggwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 66
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 2,608member
    If switching the Mac to AppleSilicon is not disruptive I don’t know what is. The amount of planning and flawless execution in a large number of areas is staggering.
    The article is also minimizing the AirPods when they are in their way just as disruptive as the iPhone and the iPad have been.
    Innovation at Apple is alive and well.
    That has the potential to be disruptive but we won't know that until they're released and see the impact they have on the personal computing market.  Personally, I am optimistic and excited.
    Pascalxxdysamoriawatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 66
    qwerty52qwerty52 Posts: 364member
    AppleInsider said: Also unlike Jobs, who thought Apple's cash was best directed toward research and development, Cook is much more willing to return cash to investors.

    For me, this is something, I would like to be 
    opposite around.
    WarrenBuffduckhdysamoriaBeatsmuthuk_vanalingamchemengin1
  • Reply 6 of 66
    qwerty52 said:
    AppleInsider said: Also unlike Jobs, who thought Apple's cash was best directed toward research and development, Cook is much more willing to return cash to investors.

    For me, this is something, I would like to be opposite around.
    Quite rightly so. Cook lost me in the beginning with his statement about pouring as much money out of customer pockets as possible (or something of that nature).
    How would any product oriented employee at Apple get inspiration from this man (maybe some bookkeeper..) ?
    This article proves his only distant interest in design, engineering, development. Transpiring into the rest of the oprganisation and translating into late or failed product launches for anything other than iPhone and the transition from trendsetting leadership towards just following others.
    A man that probably gets more energy from sellling $45 plastic WatchBands than a brand new Mac design. 

    What he stands for is supercapitalism by exploiting the less-educated masses and captivating them in the walled garden (symbolized by the SpaceShip). Apparently in a distant, ivory tower leadership style with interest in financial and PR aspects mostly.
    edited August 2020 lkruppdysamoriacolinngBeatsqwerty52chemengin1
  • Reply 7 of 66
    I'm not a Cook apologist by any means, but I think it's worth remembering that Apple have allegedly had at least two major, potentially market shattering projects very credibly rumored over the last decade; the car and the AR glasses.

    Jobs' oversight of the relatively rapid evolution of technology from the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad makes sense because there's a degree of natural iteration from one to the next. The stakes were high for the company and all three were groundbreaking in their own right.

    Cook seems to have placed major bets on some very long plays that may or may not pan out (the car development sounds like a bumpy road), but to say they're not focused on Jobsian-levels of innovation seems off the mark. They not fighting for their life anymore so they don't need to be scrappy, rapid innovators. I reckon Apple are swinging even harder for the fences than they ever have, only with much higher odds of whiffing if they don't take the time to nail it perfectly.
    edited August 2020 get serioush4y3swatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 66
    citpekscitpeks Posts: 197member
    Something the Cook detractors often fail to acknowledge is that Jobs, their hero, personally recruited Cook to Apple, worked closely with him for more than a decade, hand-picked him to be his successor, and urged Cook to chart his own course, and not feel pressured to emulate him.  Cook is the man Jobs chose to safeguard and protect his baby.

    As a user, are there things that I wished Cook did differently?  Sure.  For the Apple products I see and touch every day, I think an un-checked Jony Ive earns more scorn.  How many years did it take for the MacBooks to recover from the crappy keyboards that allowed them to be fractionally thinner?  Or be hamstrung by the nature and scarcity of ports?

    But if Cook is so bad (and by most objective criteria, he's quite the opposite), then who can do a better job? Or turn out to be the next Sculley, Spindler, or Amelio?

    Plus, there's no way to know that, were Jobs still alive, he would not have made many of the same moves that Cook has.
    edited August 2020 dewmeget seriousjdb8167Beatspat412GG1watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 66
    mr lizardmr lizard Posts: 354member
    How unusual. Lots of things in the profile which jump out as a little odd. Not least of all the idea that Cook has a paper-based meeting agenda that he flips the pages on. 

    Also odd is the assertion that he’s detail oriented, at a time when software quality has come under question. Perhaps detail oriented only as far as supply chain mechanics goes (which would explain how the CEO of the largest technology firm on the planet found out about 25 misdirected computers. As an aside, why is Apple shipping computers in units of 25?!)

    As for the apparent fact that Apple “helped arrange calls four phone people it said could speak to areas of importance to Mr. Cook” [sic], I find that extraordinary. Apple almost exclusively no-comments just about everything, so the idea that they would help facilitate quotes for an exec profile that wasn’t an Apple-sanctioned puff piece is very out of character for the company. 

    All in all a slightly odd but nonetheless curious piece. 
    bulk001dysamoriaget serious
  • Reply 10 of 66
    I have no major complaints about Apple under Tim Cook - he’s doing a sterling job and the numbers show. Except for the iMac - the Fat Bezels must die!
    get seriouswatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 66
    bulk001bulk001 Posts: 716member
    Apple needs a creative visionary who makes their products exciting again, not just thinner. I just bought a bunch of new iPad Pros. They are nice but they are just a tablet to our staff who appreciate new tools but were “meh, thanks” and went back to work. One person hasn’t even gotten around to opening the box yet. The AS thing is disruptive to the chip industry but most consumers are not going to care unless their favorite piece of software stops running on it. Safari opening 100th of a second faster is not a disruption to them. @"mr lizard" Some great observations there BTW. 
    get seriousBeats
  • Reply 12 of 66
    red oakred oak Posts: 989member
    Apple's R&D spend tripled in the past 5 years to $18 Billion/yr.    Apple's cash flow allows them to both invest HUGE amounts in the future of Apple AND return capital to shareholders 
    get seriousjdb8167pat412watto_cobrafastasleepFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 13 of 66
    marsorry said:
    Except for the iMac - the Fat Bezels must die!
    To be fair, if Intel had been at least adequate at their role then the bezels would have gone before now, probably at the same time as the new iPad Pro design. I still think Apple would have moved to AS though but perhaps not quite so quick. I think AS heralds the next age of computing (not just desktop) and Apple will lead the charge in this new age. When we look back in another 10 years time I suspect we will be shocked how far AS has revolutionized industries.

    But Apple has to be careful, the larger you are the further you can fall, and this of course means they can’t be as lean and fast to market as they could 15 years ago. But so far, the new Cook era products (Watch and Airpods) have been fantastic. In fact, they fit so seamlessly and invisibly into owners lives that they seem obvious yet magical extensions of the wearer. Glasses (and ring?) will only extend in this area.

    I suspect the Apple Car area might have been a personal pet project for someone who likely didn’t realise the enormity of it when setting out. I suspect it will have benefited Apple in some ways but must have been (or still is?) a bit of a money pit. Then again, that’s just the nature of things. 

    On the R&D versus returning money to investors issue, I feel that Apple likely spends as much on R&D as it needs and there is no benefit to just spending more on the same results. So much of the surplus is returned to investors, but in my mind they likely have spent too much on buy-backs (and I say this as an AAPL investor) - I would rather they kept even more in reserves.

    get seriouswatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 66
    red oakred oak Posts: 989member
    Making great products, software and services, and doing it the "right way", must always be Apple's top priority.    That is the foundation of Apple's house 
    get serioush4y3sjdb8167watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 66
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,647member
    If switching the Mac to AppleSilicon is not disruptive I don’t know what is. The amount of planning and flawless execution in a large number of areas is staggering.
    The article is also minimizing the AirPods when they are in their way just as disruptive as the iPhone and the iPad have been.
    Innovation at Apple is alive and well.
    I disagree that switching from Intel to Apple Silicon is “disruptive” in the sense of how disruption is defined by the creator and father of the term “disruptive innovation,” the late and great Clayton Christensen from Harvard Business School. Using the term “disruption” to convey anything that “shakes things up” or “goes against the status quo” misses the essence of “disruption”  if it doesn’t also either: 1) create a new market where one did not previously exist, or 2) forever change an existing market in a manner far more substantially than simply a refinement or enhancement to the existing market. Apple’s move to using its own chips more broadly is clearly a “sustaining innovation” for their existing products. It will deliver an improvement and enhancement that will help them be more competitive and profitable in their existing markets. However, it neither  creates a new market nor obviates the need for an existing market.

    This isn’t about defining terminology for terminology’s sake or taking anything at all away from what Apple has accomplished. It’s about recognizing the essence of something that is happening in a broader market sense. The iPhone’s disruptive innovation was its App Store, not the all-screen device itself, because the App Store moved a lot of the value proposition delivered by software from other computing platforms such as laptops, desktops, and terminals connected to servers to hand held devices. The iPhone with its App Store replaced other generally more expensive computers and software delivery platforms with something that fit in your pocket filled with sub $10 apps. The iPhone obviated the need for other personal computers for a lot of folks, especially in emerging economies.

    The iPad added to the iPhone’s success, but it was more of a refinement that allowed a new software deliver option to displace a broader range of other computing platforms. The iPad could be considered disruptive to the printed media market, magazines and news papers, but that would be a bit of a stretch because web browsers kind of set the stage for that already. The iPad simply removed some of the compromises inherent to iPhone, i.e., too small of a reading surface, and desktops, i.e., not portable enough. It filled gaps but did not create any new markets.

    Apple’s success under Tim Cook has largely been driven by, as you mentioned, flawless execution but also by sustaining innovation. These two things go hand in hand. Doing sustaining innovation correctly and profitably requires flawless execution, much more so than does doing disruptive innovation. With disruptive innovation, which usually occurs from the bottom up, there is usually something about it that captures the attention of enough customers to recognize the greater potential, even if it is not yet perfect. The “something” is often its low price. The Raspberry Pi is a good example of this. For many casual computer users who are non-gamers the Raspberry Pi 4 is all the personal computer they’ll ever need and it’s around $50. 

    Lastly, innovation when defined as something that delivers consumable value to people and society, is always a good thing. No one form of innovation is inherently better than another. A company like Apple who can continually innovate across the broad spectrum of innovation, including but not limited to, moving the value of inventions into products, sustaining innovation, disruptive innovation, process innovation, marketing innovation, cultural innovation, and leadership innovation better than its competitors will probably maintain a dominant position in the markets it serves and help create new markets for a long time. Right now there is no company in the world that is innovating across the broad spectrum of innovation as well as Apple is, but there are a few who are upping their game very quickly, like Tesla. The bottom line is that Tim Cook recognizes that everything Apple does matters, and he’s not conceding any ground to competitors without a fight, which means executing as flawlessly as possible on everything his teams work on every single day.  
    WarrenBuffduckhFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 16 of 66
    I'm not a Cook apologist by any means, but I think it's worth remembering that Apple have allegedly had at least two major, potentially market shattering projects very credibly rumored over the last decade; the car and the AR glasses.

    ....
    t (the car development sounds like a bumpy road), but to say they're not focused on Jobsian-levels of innovation seems off the mark. They not fighting for their life anymore so they don't need to be scrappy, rapid innovators. I reckon Apple are swinging even harder for the fences than they ever have, only with much higher odds of whiffing if they don't take the time to nail it perfectly.
    The AppleCar project is there to prove us Cook is a product innovator.
    Also, to prove his successor he wasn’t (...)

    Steve Jobs didn’t see relentless innovation as a way to save his company. 
    He rather founded a company to propell his product innovation dreams
    edited August 2020
  • Reply 17 of 66
    tmaytmay Posts: 5,825member
    dewme said:
    You lost me when you mentioned Tesla. 

    but there are a few who are upping their game very quickly, like Tesla
    Tesla is a perfect example of a first mover advantage, driven by a charismatic leader, who was not the founder, finding itself with a business model that fails in the marketplace.

    Tesla has relatively poor quality control, abysmal service, is not a leader in autonomous driving despite the marketing, has relied on billions in government incentives to survive, has routinely ignored the industry's manufacturing prowess, and is now facing an extinction event as the major automakers release a plethora of competitors. 

    But investors low him, hence the valuation.

    As for Christensen, you might follow Horace Dediu at Asymco.com, reading some of his past posts on Apple, as he actually studied under Christensen. Horace is now mostly involved in micromobility.


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 66
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,407member
    Perhaps someone at Apple has already told the tale, but if I were to guess I’d say the so-called “Apple Car” (Project Titan) was the conceit of one very bored and unmotivated Jony Ive looking for relevance at post-Steve Jobs Apple. It’s exactly the kind of splashy, wasteful project a person with an unlimited budget might recommend to a company with nothing left for him to do.
    edited August 2020 WarrenBuffduckhget seriousanantksundaram
  • Reply 19 of 66
    tmaytmay Posts: 5,825member
    Perhaps someone at Apple has already told the tale, but if I were to guess I’d say the so-called “Apple Car” (Project Titan) was the conceit of one very bored and unmotivated Jony Ive looking for relevance at post-Steve Jobs Apple. It’s exactly the kind of splashy, wasteful project a person with an unlimited budget might recommend to a company with nothing left for him to do.
    That may have been how it started, but Apple is using it as a test bed, I suspect, for a lot of mobile technologies. If Apple builds a car, it won't be for consumers, but for a mobility service. The margins selling to consumers wouldn't make sense to Apple.
    WarrenBuffduckhget seriouswatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 66
    If switching the Mac to AppleSilicon is not disruptive I don’t know what is. The amount of planning and flawless execution in a large number of areas is staggering.
    The article is also minimizing the AirPods when they are in their way just as disruptive as the iPhone and the iPad have been.
    Innovation at Apple is alive and well.
    Contrary to what you assume, AS is continuity innovation - improving existing products in an existing line of business.
    Disruptive innovation would require existing business to be disrupted/substituted by new and more comprehensive/immersive product(s)
    Like superseding iPod by iPhone, or Mac/iPad product lines with something revolutionary new like the TouchMac, that would cannibalize existing business to launch something bigger and better.
    The current Apple (via Catalyst, TouchBar and other compromises) is avoiding the TouchMac as much as it can, now that it has become more dependable to the immense, existing volumes the giant, defensive incumbent as per Tim’s strategy leaving disruptive innovation to leaner, more flexible (startup-) companies.
    For example, it will avoid foldable phones (that would challenge/risk iPad sales) as much as it can, until competitors will prove it to be a new indispensible category too which it then will respond.
    Note: Samsung is amongst them - it can attack Apple in this arena as it has less to lose in the tablet category
    Project Titan had the aim of disrupting the car industry, but it never materialised

    edited August 2020
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