Tim Cook replaced Steve Jobs as chief executive officer (CEO) of Apple in August 2011, when Jobs died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. Cook had already been at the company for 16 years at that point, including four years as chief operating officer (COO). Jobs hand-picked him as his successor, but the two are in many ways a study in contrasts.
Degrees Vs. Dropout
Jobs was a rebel and non-conformist from an early age; he dropped out of Reed College to travel around India before taking a job with Atari Computers. He teamed up with his high school friend Steve Wozniak to start what would become Apple in his parents' garage. He was famously forced out of the company that he founded in 1985, before returning for a second and extraordinarily successful round of leadership in 1997.
Cook's path to Apple was, in some ways, far more conventional. He received a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from Auburn University in 1982. He got his MBA from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business in 1988, graduating in the top 10% of his class.
Different Paths to the Same Place
Cook's expertise is in operations. He began his career at IBM, where he rose to be the director of North American fulfillment. After stops at several other computer companies, he landed at Compaq as its president of corporate materials. It was from here that Jobs lured him to Apple, first as senior vice president of worldwide operations, then COO and head of the Macintosh division. He was brought to Apple because he had the organizational strengths that Jobs lacked and that the company desperately needed.
Jobs, by contrast, was always the guy running the show. He founded Apple with Wozniak. When he was pushed out of the company, he moved on to start a new computer company called NeXT. While running that company, he bought Lucasfilm's computer graphics division and turned it into the animated film giant Pixar. When he returned to Apple in 1997 – as part of the company's purchase of NeXT – he became CEO within seven months.
Cook Rescues Apple's Operations
Cook joined Apple as senior vice president of worldwide operations in 1998, at a time when the company was beginning to be recognized for top-notch design and marketing, although it was a financial and operations mess. With the iPod and the iMac soon to be released, Cook's experience at IBM – the home of supply chain integration – enabled him to bring order from chaos. He eliminated stockpiled inventory, which he called "fundamentally evil." He sharply increased outsourcing, ensuring the lowest possible prices on component parts. He drove the move to a digital supply chain, which distributes products and software updates as apps and iTunes downloads. When the company released its revolutionary new products, he made sure that Apple locked in the raw materials and suppliers that would keep manufacturing rolling.
Differences in Style and Substance
Jobs reportedly told Cook that, when he took over as CEO, he should never ask himself what Jobs would have done in a given situation. When the dying man chose his successor, he recognized that the two of them were very different, but he embraced a new path for the company he'd helped to found.
Both books and movies have highlighted Jobs' aggressive and abrasive management style. He was known for publicly berating employees, breaking suppliers' contracts when their performances were unsatisfactory, and a level of persistence and stubbornness that occasionally brought stunning success.
Cook is just as dedicated and apparently as much of a workaholic as his predecessor – he's known to routinely start emailing employees at 4:30 a.m. – but he is as calm as Jobs was mercurial. He's known for transparency and an open-door policy, while Jobs was notoriously secretive. However, Cook's standards are every bit as high.
Some observers have expressed concerned that Apple without the Jobs "wow" factor can't be as successful. While the iWatch and new iPads can be considered to be incremental rather than monumental new products, the company is soaring in ways that it never did before. Its revenue, profits and stock price all continue to hit new highs, while stockholders are rewarded with regular dividends.
Jobs was truly one of the great startup gurus ever, but Cook is arguably a far better CEO.