Why Apple trusts Tim Cook

The company's COO has been running operations since 2007 and is the obvious choice to become its next chief executive.

By Kim Peterson Jan 17, 2011 3:48PM
Credit: Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook ((C) Chris Hondros/Getty Images)Steve Jobs is handing operations at Apple (AAPL) to Tim Cook, his top lieutenant and the man who may become the next chief executive at the company. Jobs trusts Cook to steer the ship during his medical leave of absence, and shareholders should, too.

Why? Cook has been running the day-to-day business at Apple since 2007 and has made some important changes. He has also served as Apple's chief executive twice -- in 2004, after Jobs had pancreatic-cancer surgery, and in 2009, when Jobs took a five-month leave to recover from a liver transplant.

Cook is in the spotlight today after Jobs announced he is taking another medical leave. The odds are increasing that Cook will be the anointed one if Jobs ever steps down as chief executive. So who is this guy, anyway? 

Cook is still a bit of an unknown, preferring to stay in the shadow of Jobs' luminous presence. But several interviews and his own speeches show him as a smart, nose-to-the-grindstone operations guy who knows exactly what Jobs wants -- and how to get it.

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Fortune reports
one story about a meeting in which Cook learned of a problem the company was having in Asia. Cook told staffers that the problem was bad and that someone should be in China looking into it. Thirty minutes into the meeting, Cook looked at a key operations executive and asked, "Why are you still here?"

That executive immediately drove to the airport and hopped on a flight to China -- with no luggage, no change of clothes and no scheduled return date.

Cook implemented a big change at Apple. He closed down the company's factories around the world and instead outsourced the manufacturing to other companies, Fortune reports. That allowed Apple to be far more nimble with inventory, and that model become a standard for other tech companies.

Cook, 50, is extremely highly paid for an operations guy. For 2010, his total compensation was $59 million, The Wall Street Journal reports. That includes a salary of $800,000, a $5 million bonus and about $52 million in stock awards.

He really came into his own at Apple in 2009, when he ran the company while Jobs was on medical leave. Looking back, we know that Cook was overseeing development of the iPad, which had a successful launch and stands to become one of Apple's most important product lines.

Cook's time as interim CEO was notable for what didn't happen: There were no crises, no problems with sales or operations and no executive drama. At least not publicly. Apple seemed to carry on as usual under Cook's leadership.

"At this point, losing Tim Cook would be a bigger deal to investors than if Steve Jobs stepped aside," Gene Munster, an analyst for Piper Jaffray, told the Journal in June 2009. "Just that thought makes my stomach tighten up."

OK, so we know that Cook can run Apple. But the bigger question -- one that, to me, is still unanswered -- is whether Cook can be the visionary that Apple needs. Can he bring to Apple the bold, make-no-compromises innovation that Jobs has perfected?

This triggers an even bigger question: Does Apple even need that level of innovation anymore? Has it matured into a company that can simply stick to and improve upon four platforms -- the iPhone, iPad, Mac and iPod -- going forward? Apple won't be the same without Jobs. But maybe it doesn't need to be.

We don't know how long Jobs' current medical leave will last. Cook will have plenty to deal with this year, including a new version of the iPad expected this spring. He'll also oversee the iPhone's expansion to Verizon (VZ). He'll be expected to continue expanding Apple's sales internationally and in the corporate world. And he'll become even more suited to take over as chief executive if necessary.



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