‘The magical leader must be succeeded by
another charismatic – the emotional connection of employees and customers
demands it’, George Colony, after Max Weber
The other Apple executive who Colony
believes has ‘some of the charisma and outspoken design sense to legitimately
lead the company’s is Jonathan Ive. But Ive, while universally respected as an
industrial design chief, has no experience or qualifications in corporate
management; like a popular striker tipped as a future manager, he would have to
do his badges first.
Why not an external candidate? In the
summer of 2011, soon before Jobs would resign as he entered the closing phase
of his illness, news outlets including the Wall Street Journal reported that
the Apple board was in discussion with executive recruitment agents and with
one or more leaders of other major tech companies. This would be expected in
the circumstances, but rumour-mongers were hard pressed to insert any names
into the blanks.
Nobody stuck out as a natural choice. No
CEO was regularly mentioned in the same breath as Jobs, just as no company was
compared to Apple. However persuasive the headhunters might be, there was nobody
they could approach knowing that, if they pulled it off, Apple could make an
announcement that would delight its customers and reassure the markets.
On the contrary: any and all of the
possible candidates would be an anticlimax. A tried-and-tested, uncontroversial,
technically knowledgeable internal candidate was the safe option that remained
– and here was one who already had the Jobs seal of approval.
clicked at that meeting in 1998. But did Cook find in Jobs a kindred spirit, or
just a role model?
So Cook’s rise was not to be halted. When,
in 2009, the CEO announced a second leabe of absence, there was no disguising
the heightened significance (Jobs, it turned out, was undergoing a liver
transplant) of the COO’s repeat performance at the con. It was now obvious that
he was a favoured candidate for the role when – rather than it – it became
vacant. The 2008 Fortune piece that quoted his self-effacing remarks about
Jobs’ longevity was subtitled: ‘Could operations whiz Tim Cook run the company
Apple didn’t appear to suffer any sudden
lack of drive or vision during Cook’s interregnums. But then product pipelines
were alreadt in place; and Jobs, though absent, was never far away, or shy of
involving himself in critical decisions. He returned in person for key public
events, including the launch of the iPad 2 in March 2011, and had a seat
reserved for him at the iPhone 4S event on 4 October, the day before his death.
If Cook’s competence was never in doubt,
his leadership had not been fully tested.
At the memorial event for Steve Jobs held
on the Infinite Loop campus, Tim Cook recounted: ‘Among his last advice he had
for me, and for all of you, was to never ask what he would do. “Just do what’s
right”.’ In some respects, Cook has already diverged from the practices of the
founding CEO, initiating a charitable giving programme (while Laurene Powell
Jobs is a prominent philanthropist, her late husband notoriously objected to
the idea that corporations should demonstrate altruism) and hiring outsiders
such as Dixons retail chief John Browett to senior positions rather than
promoting from within.
cook At the memorial event for Steve Jobs held on the Infinite Loop campus
In his general outlook on Apple’s strategy
and product development, however, Cook has so far kept his predecessor’s flame
alive. A recent dismissal of the Windows tablet market (mobile devices running
desktop operating system) could have been taken straight from one of Jobs’ more
belligerent interviews: ‘Anything can be forced to converge. You can converge a
toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be
pleasing to the user’.
Belying his calm demeanour in public
presentations, Cook also reportedly shares his mentor’s penchant for keeping
employees in line with a barbed retort. According to a Fortune source, ‘[Cook]
convened a meeting with his team, and the discussion turned to a particular
problem in Asia. “This is really bad”, Cook told the group. “Someone should be
in China driving this’. Thirty minutes into that meeting, Cook looked at Sabih
Khan, a key operations executive, and abruptly asked, without a trace of
emotion, “Why are you still here?” If accurate, the story feels uncomfortably
as though it might reflect a calculated desire to stage an anecdote – but then
so do some of those told about Jobs.
Another area in which Cook has followed his
precursor’s pattern is remuneration. On accepting the ‘interim CEO’ position in
1997 – after selling Apple his company, next, for $4oom – Jobs agreed to an
annual salary of only $1. The following year, however, he accepted a $90m
private jet, and in 2001 he requested substantial stock options – not for the
money, he later insisted, but as a sign of the board’s respect.
Sharp practice in the way these options
were awarded would later embroil the company in a regulatory investigation and
shareholder lawsuits which cost Apple – and its senior finance executives
personally – several million dollars. A Fortune cover story decrying excessive
boardroom pay valued that grant at $872m, making it the largest in corporate
history. Jobs’ total share was worth around $2.5bn at the time of his death; it
could have been $10bn more, but for a curiously misconceived stock swap in the
market doldrums of 2003.