Apple CEO Tim Cook: A look at his biggest hurdles ahead

Apple CEO Tim Cook has a bevy of challenges ahead with brain drain and the pressure to find new product hits being top of the list.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Apple CEO Tim Cook has had an eventful week. He took over the reins from Steve Jobs, who resigned as chief executive, but became chairman. Now the fun really begins.

In the immediate future, Apple's to-do list is clear: Launch iPhone 5, roll out devices to more consumers and churn out iPads. However, those milestones are all short term and should be accomplished relatively easily given Cook's supply chain prowess. The longer-term picture will present a series of key management challenges.

Here's a look at the challenges facing Cook:

Brain drain. As noted previously, Apple has a deep management bench, but it's unclear how well Cook can retain talent. Will Jobs' loyalists leave? Cook has led Apple repeatedly so it's not like he's some outsider. What's unclear is whether Apple has the management talent that runs three to four people deep.

It's worth noting that Cook calmed the waters so Apple employees don't freak. The plan for now is Jobs' plan. Cook said:

I want you to be confident that Apple is not going to change. I cherish and celebrate Apple’s unique principles and values. Steve built a company and culture that is unlike any other in the world and we are going to stay true to that—it is in our DNA. We are going to continue to make the best products in the world that delight our customers and make our employees incredibly proud of what they do.

Also: With Jobs gone as CEO, Apple's management bench enters the spotlight

A tough act to follow and impossible expectations. Cook is following co-founder Jobs, who is basically identified with Apple. That's a daunting task. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting look on what happens when company founders split. The picture is mixed. Wal-Mart moved forward. Ford stumbled. Disney was in neutral for a decade. Microsoft's Bill Gates to Steve Ballmer hand off has worked ok, but it hasn't been smooth by any stretch as the software giant fell behind Apple. It remains to be seen if Cook forges his own identity or is seen as a mind the store type. Also: CNET: A look at new CEO Tim Cook

Finding that next big thing. As noted previously, Apple's roadmap is pretty much set for the next few years. Jobs will be chairman, have creative say and Apple's team will carry out the future roadmap. At some point, however, Apple will need its next category killer and Cook will be leading that charge. Many analysts point to TVs as Apple's next product.

Jason Perlow argued that Apple's structure makes it harder to weather failures. On the other hand, Microsoft's relatively hands off product management creates spectacular failures---Kin---but also enables the company to rebound elsewhere---Kinect.

Developing new markets. Apple remains a very consumer focused company, but there is a saturation point. Exhibit A of a saturated market is the MP3 player. Everyone has an iPod. Apple could also reach market saturation with the iPhone and iPad. That's a nice problem to have, but a little diversity couldn't hurt. One obvious segment for Apple is the enterprise. It's worth noting that Cook is the one talking about corporate uses for Apple wares on conference calls going back four years. CNET: What might Apple look like in three years?

Keeping the edge. Given Apple's ecosystem, products and design lead complacency cannot be ruled out. With Jobs as chairman, Apple isn't likely to ease up. However, Jobs is likely to recede to the background at some juncture. From there, we'll see what Apple really becomes. Companies with dominating positions always have blind spots. Intel is still struggling with mobile. Microsoft also missed the mobile curve. Google is expanding everywhere, but wrestles with social and other categories. Apple will be no different.


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