Is Tim Cook no more than an 'administrator'?

Is Tim Cook no more than an 'administrator'?

Summary: A former Microsoft executive seems to imply the idea.

TOPICS: Apple, Microsoft

Has Apple truly lost its way with Tim Cook at the helm?

A former Microsoft executive has made this claim. Writing a guest piece for Forbes, former Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold at Microsoft -- from 1994 to 2001 -- believes that the iPad and iPhone maker simply hasn't been the same since the former CEO was in control.

Herbold argues that while Apple stock continues to lose its glitter in the eyes of investors, data and numbers only tell us half the story. Stock prices, he argues, are not based solely on product line success or the balance sheet, but also relate to the perceived future of a company -- and in order to keep shareholders interested, the belief that a firm has innovative and visionary leadership is a crucial component.

While the late Steve Jobs is called the "ultimate visionary leader," Tim Cook, who replaced Jobs after the co-founder passed away in 2011, is implied to be nothing more than an office body. Although Cook is not mentioned by name, Herbold claims that Apple requires "a visionary leader, not an administrator."

"The leader needs to be paranoid about making the core offerings of the organization more exciting and more impactful with its customers," Herbold writes. "That sounds simple, but doing it with clarity and speed is absolutely necessary. You must avoid any kind of bureaucracy that can water down the impact of your efforts or slow it to a snail's pace."

In addition, Herbold says that in order to be the type of "visionary" leader modern-day businesses require, the CEO doesn't have to be a technology genius, but does have to have a high business acumen. Powerful, long-reaching business strategies are necessary, and deep, personal involvement with the details of your corporation is a must.

Comparing former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner and Steve Jobs, the former Microsoft exec says that the time spent getting to know your customers, their opinions and their needs, can improve the success of your products. Gerstner spent three months simply talking to customers about their information-technology challenges and based IBM's strategy on this, whereas Jobs personally led the design and development of Apple's consumer products -- and perhaps Cook has fallen short of this expectation.

As a parting shot, Herbold says that business managers must have "the guts to lead" to keep a firm competitive. It isn't about having charisma, but being strong-willed and knowing what you want to accomplish in the long-run.

The former Microsoft executive finishes by commenting:

"Apple could surprise us in the next six to nine months by emerging with yet another big new idea. On the other hand, I think the stock market is telling us that the public is beginning to believe that Apple really doesn't have strong visionary leadership. Apple will be a solid technology company but the Apple era may be on its way out."

Topics: Apple, Microsoft

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • problem

    It seems the problem is that Steve Jobs did not allow really critical voices around him. That means, that only submissive workers were allowed. Then when he dies there is a problem.
    • Not according to Isaacson's book

      Jobs was certainly a bully, but he also didn't particularly care for yes men. He pushed people to challenge him. He would goad them into doing it.
      • Ok...

        ..But for now, Apple shows no signs of evolution at all. They are simple doing the exact thing they doing 3 or 4 years ago. They simply are making their toys better to try to stay competitive. There were no innovations from Apple for a while and that is due to a lack of vision. Vision is what makes a great CEO.
  • Has apple missed a dead line, who passed wind up the back? ?

    Bit curious about all these doom sayers. So what exactly has cook or apple done wrong, which ball have they dropped? The rumour mill is still churning, product is still moving, and apple has never given (unplanned) sneak peaks, so what has changed. Nothing really.

    Steve Jobs did a bit of work in training cook and others, set up a training unit to perpetuate the apple philosophy etc. Really, someone has a brain snap, talks some rubbish and the worlds ending tomorrow?

    It really is to early to say, after the dev conf in june is the time to step back and make an appraisal. Most of the projects in the current development cycle are likely to be jobs inspired even now!

    What we are hearing is industrial gossip....
    • What's Missing

      iPod, iPhone, iPad has not been followed up with a blockbuster, category-defining iX device. Recent upgrades to iPhone and iPad have largely been viewed as incremental. People expect products from Cupertino that are not only pretty good or even excellent, but revolutionary. Recent products haven't been perceived as that, and the perception is taking hold that the express train is losing speed.
      • Ummm...

        Wanna buy a watch?
      • True, but ...

        ... name another company that has produced as many category-defining (or redefining) products as Apple has, over the years.

        We're accustomed to Apple putting out these blockbuster devices, but in reality, it's incredibly unrealistic to expect them to continue to do so -- even is Steve Jobs were still alive and at the helm. It's just really, really difficult to do.

        But Apple has visionary folks -- Jonathan Ive is one such notable individual -- and I believe we'll start to see their influence come through before long. Apple is still coasting on plans that Jobs had set in motion before his death.
        • iPod, iPhone, iPad

          That's 3, granted all in a short time but they are really derivatives of the same concept.


          IBM - the mainframe, the PC, the hard drive and I'm sure numerous others I can't recall.

          Siemens - Ultrasound machine, dynamo, thyristors

          Adobe - Photoshop, Acrobat, Premiere Pro

          Microsoft - Windows, Office, Xbox, ...

          Sony - Betacam, VCR, Walkman, Compact Disc (with Philips)

          And the list goes on...

          Apple is a brightly burning star which has been fortunate in leading the way in mobile (iPod/iPhone/iPad) when vision, demand, performance and an absence of effective competitors have all coincided in a perfect storm for business success. The real measure of the company will be its ability to last the distance and be in the game for the long haul - IBM, Sony, Philips, Ford, GM, GE, Siemens and so many others have been around much longer than Apple and have ridden the ups and downs and survived.

          Let's see where Apple is in 5 or 10 years when tablets and smartphones are reaching commodity status, businesses and consumers have a wide choice of products and investors are clamouring to see the new next-big-thing.
          • I give ibm credit for a lot

            But the PC? I'd say their contribution to home computing was more happy accident for us and major fluff up for them? Their "platform" only took off due to their inability to defend against clones.

            Apple were in the first group out the gates with home computing. That's the apple that interests me more than iApple.

            And thats the point they have been in since the beginning of home computing. Before ibm, sony and MS. They were the fastest growing company in US history, then they fell as far as it is posible to while keeping the doors open, and rebuilt. I think they are in for another fall because they insist on "the apple way" and the world is changing ubder them. But i'd expect them to survive.
          • The question wasn't about being first.

            The question was about category defining (or re-defining) products. IBM didn't invent the first personal computer but the now ubiquitous Microsoft/X86 "PC" stemmed from IBM's product so in that sense it was a category defining moment. It took the PC from a curiosity to the basis of a useful business tool and eventually a place on every desk and in every home.

            Anyway, who's to say the iPhone won't fade into the darkness in 5 years time? Granted it's unlikely but just because it kicked off the real popularisation of the category doesn't mean it has a guaranted place forever. It really come back to the original point of the article which is about the ability of Tim Cook and co. to innovate and keep Apple prospering. If they can't then they'll be headed the way you have described for IBM above.
  • The maps mess

    indicated that Cook is too soft to say "no, not good enough" to his grinning "it's all good" developers. There's that and the obvious problems of exhaustion of the Jobs product pipeline and no answer for "what's next?", except "just wait!"
    • What about the MobileMe mess?

      That happened under Steve Jobs.

      As for the "Apple has stopped innovating" mantra, let's just take a look at history.
      Macintosh --> 1984
      iPod --> 2001
      iPhone --> 2007
      iPad --> 2010

      That's not exactly saying that Apple redefined markets every 2nd year, now does it?
      • No

        People need to stop counting the iPad as innovative. Making an iPhone into a big screen is not innovative. The iPod was only a success because of the ease and peace of mind of iTunes...remember, everyone freaked out after Napster's ugly fall. And the iPhone was simply combining iTunes with a smartphone. I guess that's innovative, but the first iPhone honestly lacked nearly everything people love about them now- no apps, no iCloud, iMessage, facetime, etc.
        • I disagree with you

          1) The idea of the iPad preceded that of the iPhone. It was only kept under wraps because the technology and the pricing wasn't ready prior to 2010.

          2) The iPad made an entire industry shift direction. There were tablets before it but the experience on them was iffy at best. What has happened since is that other manufacturers have followed Apple in their vision. Kindle Fire, Galaxy tabs even the Surface RT. Light weight OS with touch optimized apps.
          • To ZDNet filter makers

            My original title was "I disagree with your a-s-s-essment" and the filter claimed that my post contained profanities. Maybe you want to check your filtering software?
  • New form factors

    Apple got the lead bacause each of iDevices was a new form factor that Apple popularized.

    There is wrist watch, but I don't see this as a huge success. I'd launch a smaller and a larger version of iPhone: think iPhone Mini and iPhone Note.
  • Next Big Thing

    Competitors will continue to chip away at Apple's marketshare in smartphones and tablets. This is to be expected. What about the "Next Big Thing"?

    "It" doesn't even need to be completely new, Apple/Jobs didn't invent the smartphone nor the tablet but definitely re-invented them and made piles of money doing so.

    Are Cook and company capable of coming up with the next igadget that we didn't know we can't live without?
    • Apple's genius was in taking

      What was already out there, but that was a total PITA to use, and make it fun and friendly. So, if you want to find out where Apple will strike next, look for something lots of people use or want to use, but hate using.
      • Tablets

        Baggins_z spot on regarding smartphones but I have to disagree with you regarding tablets. PITA wasn't an issue because no one bought tablets prior to the iPad. I believe Jobs and company created the market for tablets out of whole cloth.

        I've been waiting for the revolution in how TV's are used based on snippets of the Jobs biography but so far, nada.
        • Of course they did. Tablet PCs

          existed for ten years before the iPad. They just stunk and no one wanted to use them.