Apple's Tim Cook: One 'year' on, what's changed?

Apple's Tim Cook: One 'year' on, what's changed?

Summary: Apple's Tim Cook can round off his first year -- well, kind of -- as chief executive as an overall success. A look back at his five biggest hurdles, and how he fared.

TOPICS: Apple, CXO, Hardware, iPhone, iPad, PCs

Tim Cook today marks one year since he was officially named Apple's full-time chief executive; the seventh company leader to date, and successor to Steve Jobs, who co-founded the technology giant.

But in twelve months, Apple hasn't faltered or missed a beat. Was it all down to Cook, or was it hard work mixed in with plain good luck?

Apple CEO Tim Cook at WWDC 2012. Credit: James Martin/CNET.

Steve Jobs took medical leave in January 2011 while he was suffering the end-stages of pancreatic cancer. Then-chief operating officer Cook was made de facto company leader, responsible for the day-to-day operations at the technology supergiant, while Jobs remained fully in the loop and remained in charge, making the difficult decisions any chief executive would need to.

Jobs resigned on August 24 as his final days drew closer, Cook stepped into take over the company. The full extent of Jobs' illness was unknown. He died on October 5; the day after the iPhone 4S was announced.

Also see: ZDNet: Steve Jobs: A retrospective | When does Apple's Tim Cook era really begin? | Tim Cook and a more likeable Apple | The one country Apple can't crack: China | CNET: Apple's Tim Cook notches first year as CEO | Tim Cook: 'I've never really felt the weight of trying to be Steve' | D10: Tim Cook speaks his mind | CBS News: Steve Jobs' legacy | Can Tim Cook do what Steve Jobs couldn't?

Shortly after Cook's ascension to the Apple throne, ZDNet editor-in-chief Larry Dignan outlined five challenges for the already warmed-up chief executive, in amid a bevy of upcoming and expected software and hardware updates -- OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, which was released last month; iOS 6, due for launch this fall; and the iPhone 5, which will likely debut next month.

How has he fared so far? 

Brain drain. Cook said that Apple is "not going to change" in his first email to his staff. Little has, at least what we know of. The product cycle kept spinning, its WWDC 2012 developer conference went ahead as planned, and the 'talk to no-one' culture remains; despite Cook's efforts to "double down" on secrecy, a string of alleged iPhone 5 leaks may lead to the least surprising iPhone announcement to date, the iPhone 4's drinking session notwithstanding.

One of his problems faced was whether or not he could retain the talent in post-Jobs world. Cook has seen a number of senior executives and vice-presidents leave during the time Jobs took his final medical leave, to wit: the alleged forced retirement of former Apple security unit chief John Theriault, and the resignations of retail chief Ron JohnsonMac software vice-president Bertrand Serlet, and vice-president of mobile advertising for iAd Andy Miller. Only the not-so-forced retirements of hardware engineering vice-president Bob Mansfield and corporate controller Betsy Rafael came under Cook's reign.

Tough act to follow and impossible expectations? Cook never set himself up -- nor was it particularly expected for the newly-named chief executive -- to follow in Steve Jobs' footsteps. He probably would have caused offense in any attempt to become Jobs 2.0 to staff, investors, and Apple fans, rather than step out of Jobs' shadow. 

At first it was a worry. Who knew what would happen to Apple? Would Cook go his own way, or take the reins as though nothing had happened? Both, and neither. Apple saw a new dawn after Jobs' death. Cook picked up the company and forged his own way. He's made enough of a name for himself to claim his stake to the Apple fortune, but was careful not to turn himself into the story. 

Finding the next big thing. This was already set-up for him, arguably. The roadmap for Apple products -- what truly defines the company -- was a logical progression. iPhone 4S meet iPhone 5. Mac OS 10.7 Lion meets OS X Mountain Lion. iPad 2 meets, well, "the new iPad," which some might say is Cook's new approach to naming products under the next-generation Apple. The product roadmap ran itself.

But the rumors keep stirring that Apple is working on a 7-inch iPad, dubbed the iPad Mini. Although it wasn't Apple bringing the expected 7-inch tablet to the market, it was the market that brought the 7-inch tablet to Apple. Pressure from major players such as Google, Amazon, and Samsung all but forced Apple into a 'play, or get out' scenario, despite Jobs' "dead on arrival" comments -- even if he did warm up to the idea in the end.

Developing new markets. Apple's place in China was almost non-existent under the Jobsian era. Jobs actively avoided a visit to the country in favor of sending Cook. But Cook went again -- the first time since he was made chief executive -- to make headway in light of the Proview intellectual property ding-dong, sort out things with Foxconn, and to hobnob with the Chinese bourgeois.

Following The New York Times' damning report on Foxconn's working conditions -- Apple's main manufacturer -- Cook set fire to the company's secrecy policy and threw open the doors of transparency. Apple allowed in human rights and labor groups and audited all of its independent contractors in the region. Cook didn't just carve new markets and develop new opportunities in regions normally pushed aside under the 'old Apple,' he embraced China as a test case for other markets. Not a bad place to start, really. 

Keeping the edge. Cook has been busy keeping the product lines running, but also worked to make the company's image different. From investor dividends to matching charitable donations, these things put Apple in the par category with most other companies. 

But even in the intellectual property race, Apple will likely claim ultimate victory its case against Samsung. While Jobs may have declared "thermonuclear war" against Google-owned Android, Cook led the troops into battle to take out the rival operating system's barracks: Samsung. How this will work out, we'll find out in the coming days and weeks.

This will be what defines Cook's legacy -- at least, if or when something bigger comes along. While Apple reinvented the computer with the Mac, the smartphone with the iPhone -- all under Jobs -- Cook's patent fight may force rival companies to go back to the drawing board to basically reinvent the very concept of a mobile device.

Topics: Apple, CXO, Hardware, iPhone, iPad, PCs

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  • This is accurate phrasing, indeed

    "Pressure from major players such as Google, Amazon, and Samsung all ***but*** forced Apple into a 'play, or get out' scenario"

    Considering how miserable both Amazon's and Samsung's 7" sales were in Q2, their existence certainly did not force Apple into anything, so are correct using "but" word in this phrase.

    Apple had patents that handle smaller tablets already two years ago. Lets see if Apple managed to turn those patents into real production or not: there was method patented that would automatically and dynamically enlarge the area of UI to which user's finger approaches -- id est before actual touch happens. This is quite hard technically to implement, so the chances that such technology will be used in iPad mini are questionable -- though it is possible.
  • "Developing new markets" -- here few inexact phrases

    1) Apple already did billions of dollars in China while Jobs was CEO. This year Apple added much bigger cellular network there and sales doubled. However, this has nothing to do specifically with who is CEO since it is just matter of long negotiations, support of specific cellular standards, previous deals exclusivity limitations, so on;

    2) Jobs was not avoiding China or any other country, he just visited only few countries all of his second coming years in Apple: UK, France, Japan. He did not even visit India once since his adventure of 1970s. Was not fan of travelling, obviously;

    3) There was no secrecy policy about working conditions of Apple third-party suppliers during all those years -- you can see very much detailed reports (no IT company did in that extent) on Apple's site;

    4) NYT damning report did not influence on anything. Apple announced their plans with start inspections by the labour association before this NYT article appeared.
  • The "iPad mini" is still a rumor

    And that rumor is NOT being driven, as you suggest, by Apple loyalists. It is being driven by consumers who lust after Apple bells-and-whistles at Android price-points. Well... it ain't gonna happen!

    If Apple should decide to introduce an "iPad mini" (which I seriously doubt), it will have to come in at a $399 price-point - marking the demise of the iPad 2.

    Bringing an iPad mini in at any other price-point will only dilute the rest of Apple's tablet product offering.

    Case in point ... Microsoft has entered the market with a 10" tablet which requires at least 1024x768 resolution. Microsoft is going after the 10" iPad 3 at iPad price-points and Microsoft is a much more formidable competitor than Android. Apple would be wise to forget about the iPad mini and instead should be making themselves more attractive than the "MS Surface RT"
    M Wagner
    • I'm sorry, but I don't agree with this last comment, M Wagner,

      No matter whatApple does, people whom are loyal to MS are going to purchase MS products, no matter what. Even if Apple's IPad could cure cancer, there would still be those people, that hate Apple so much, they would try their darnedest to get people to buy MS.....

      And please understand I'm not trying to take anything away from MS, I think they have what looks to be a great tablet, with the Surface, and it should do very well. If I didn't already own an IPad,I would probably consider buying a Surface when they come out.

      Kudos to Cook, for doing a great job for his first year, I hope he keeps doing it, so we the consumers can keep winning by having some great choices out there between Apple, Android, and MicroSoft...
      • RE:I'm sorry, but I don't agree with this last comment, M Wagner,

        " there would still be those people, that hate Apple so much, they would try their darnedest to get people to buy MS....."
        Curious how fanbois, whether Apple, MS, Linux, or Android, assume the only reason folks don't jump on their particular band wagon is because of "hate". Transference, perhaps?
  • Sigh

    What evidence do we have that Apple patents will beat down Samsung? I mean - if there is clear and compelling evidence, I haven't seen it here. This sounds like some un-informed opinion, and I can get that from my co-workers and people on the street.

    In all likelihood, the case before Hon. Lucy Koh in California will go (seomwhat) for Apple, but will most definitely be appealed whichever way it goes. The grounds for appeal for Samsung are excellent - evidence was excluded on the basis of what was a judgement call. Samsung can simply question that judgement and is assured of an appeal.

    The only thing really sure here is that lawyers will continue to make great money, and that Apple is paying a lot of attention to using the law to stifle competition. Time will tell whether they can than still innovation.
  • Can he at least have his own sense of fashion?

    He doesnt have to dress like Jobs did..
  • T . Cook

    Cook seems like a smart businessman Improving investor relations has no doubt
    help fuel the doubling in price of Apples stock price and market cap.
    having put a vast working global supply chain in place he certainly has executive skills.
    I would say he is doing good for the shareholders and customers that is a primary
    responsibility of a C.E.O after all .
    Apple faces many of the same changes as many other tech giants geopolitical concerns,
    changing marketplace and technology change so far he seems to be doing well .
    preferred user
  • Way to go, Tim!

    I like what I've seen so far. Cook came to the CEO position under difficult circumstances. His first product announcement was on the day before Steve Jobs died, and it had to be a difficult time for him. I think he handled Apple's remembrance of Jobs with a lot of poise, and I've been very favorably impressed with his public appearances during the past year. Steve Jobs had a knack for picking good people, and his choice of Cook as CEO is an example of this. Keep up the good work, Tim!
  • At the risk of sounding like a Fanboy (sigh) there is a logical comparison

    to gage Tim Cook by. Some, like SeanConnery007, might say obvious. That, of course, is Tim Cook and Steve Ballmer.

    Now, it's far too early for that comparison. Give that another ten years. (One must respect history)

    But if, under Tim Cook's leadership, Apple prospers and increases it's market share and/or market cap than it would be a very safe and non-biased historical judgement that Tim Cook was a much better CEO than Steve Ballmer.

    Again .. much too early to tell but at least Tim Cook has done nothing to diminish Apple's reputation or Corporate strength during his first year. (However, some might argue that this was NOT Tim's first year as CEO given Steve Job's later year illness progression and reduced corporate work load.)
  • Steady As He Goes...

    I've been in the Apple ecosystem for years, and supported throughout. While I think Tim Cook is doing well, I believe the jury is out. I agree with Avie Tevanian when he said that Apple's biggest concern should be complacency. Complacency? Remember Sears when Walmart crept up on them? They really never recovered. I would hate to see that happen to Apple. Don't say that would never happen. Sears, the retail behemoth at the time, said the same thing.

    When I say the jury is still out, I equate the situation like this - Steve Jobs is a great coach - envision Bear Bryant - he retires and is gone - he has coaches and players he recruited. When the players are gone, the coaches have to do their own thing, they no longer can ride the coach's coattails on successes he put in place. That is where we are. Steve put things in place, iTunes, iPod, iPad, iPhone, iMac, etc. (yes, I know it was a team effort but it was his vision) iPad mini? That's a competitive response. A real no brainer as a next step. I think even Steve, if he were alive, would see the necessity of it What Tim Cook and his leadership team do from here on out will be interesting to see. Ask me the question in 4 years.