Who Is Tim Cook?

Under his leadership, Apple has seen remarkable growth and profitability

Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple, one of the largest companies in the world. Since taking the reins in 2011, Cook has grown the company into a multi-trillion dollar behemoth. Apple shares have increased 1000% over his tenure and, as of June 2021, the company makes roughly $10,000 per second.

Key Takeaways

  • Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple, a position he has held since 2011.
  • Cook grew up in Alabama, later graduating from Auburn University in industrial engineering and earning an MBA from Duke University. 
  • Prior to being CEO and successor to Steve Jobs, Cook was the chief operating officer, known for driving profitability and crafting complex global supply chains.
  • Under Cook’s tenure, Apple has grown to become a multi-trillion dollar company, launched the Apple Watch and AirPods, and integrated the M1 processor.
Tim Cook

Investopedia / Alex Dos Diaz

While Apple founder Steve Jobs was known as the visionary, Cook is known for driving high profit margins and crafting complex, global supply chains. Since 2011, Apple’s profitability and revenues have quadrupled. 

Compared to his predecessor, Cook is considered to have fewer product breakthroughs. While Jobs launched the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and iTunes, Cook’s most noteworthy launch was the Apple Watch in 2014. He's also responsible for the introduction of AirPods.

Perhaps some of his greatest accomplishments can be seen at the supply chain and operations level. For instance, when Apple shifted to in-house M1 processors in 2020 instead of Intel chips, revenues skyrocketed by over 70%. Critically, the M1 processors allowed for longer battery life and power efficiency, consuming less power than the former Intel chips. 

Cook’s legacy is wide-reaching in just over a decade, with formative successes in operations, supply chain management, and company growth.

Early Life and Education

Tim Cook was born in Robertsdale, Alabama on November 1, 1960. His father, Timothy D. Cook was a shipyard worker while his mother Geraldine worked at a pharmacy. In high school, Cook graduated second in his class and was voted “most studious.” He held jobs delivering the Press-Register and working part-time at the pharmacy.

After graduating in industrial engineering at Auburn University, Cook earned his MBA at Duke University, graduating as a Fuqua Scholar in 1988, an award granted to the top 10% in a class. 

Early Career

Following his MBA, Cook went on to work at IBM for 12 years. There, he managed distribution and manufacturing operations for North America and Latin America. Later, he worked as an executive at Compaq, the world’s largest seller of computers at the time.

Cook was known as an inventory genius. “Inventory is like dairy products,” Cook is quoted saying. “No one wants to buy spoiled milk.” For this reason, inventory management can save a company millions. Cook also referred to inventory as “fundamentally evil.”

Cook referred to himself as "Attila the Hun of Inventory," with aggressive tactics inspired by the fearless 5th AD warrior.

Eventually, after multiple attempts from Apple recruiters, Cook decided to meet with Jobs. At this time, Apple looked to be on brink of bankruptcy, with $1 billion in net loss and dismal sales.

When Cook met with Jobs, he was impressed by the company's vision and strategy—Apple was doing something different. After six months at Compaq, Cook signed a $400,000 base salary deal and a $500,000 signing bonus to join the firm.

He recalls that one executive considered him a fool for leaving Compaq for Apple—the company appeared to be on its last legs and morale was low.

Apple, 1998 to 2010

At the age of 37, Cook joined Apple as the senior vice president of worldwide operations. Within a year, the company made a profit of $309 million and released a sleek iMac.

Cook transformed Apple’s manufacturing, adopting just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing used at Intel. At its core, JIT reduces the amount of inventory and allows new products to enter the market at a faster rate. Apple’s inventory turnover went from months to just five days.

Cook has noted that inventory declines in value by 1% to 2% per week.

By the mid-2000s, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Job was grooming Cook to be his successor. Cook served as interim CEO in 2004 and 2009. During this time, Cook oversaw the announcement of iCloud and launch of iPad 2.

Before taking the helm of Apple, Cook was known for his business brilliance. "While Steve Jobs is famous for his product sense, Tim Cook is known as the genius behind Apple's ability to keep inventory low, ship products quickly, and milk extremely high profit margins," said Paul Miller of the podcast "This Is My Next."

Apple, 2011 to the Present

In August 2011, Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO after 14 years. In his first memo as CEO to employees, Tim Cook wrote, “Joining Apple was the best decision I've ever made and it's been the privilege of a lifetime to work for Apple and Steve for over 13 years.” 

At that time, Apple’s market valuation was below $400 billion. Since then, it has grown sevenfold as of March 2022 and global active device users have grown from 135 million to over 1 billion.

Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has acquired over 100 companies, developed an Oscar-nominated production studio, and expanded its hardware. Additionally, Apple built out its subscription services spanning from iCloud, Apple Podcasts, and Apple Music, which launched in 2011, 2012, and 2015, respectively. 

In 2018, Apple became the first $1 trillion company by market capitalization. Just two years later, it reached $2 trillion in value.

At the same time, Apple began transitioning from Intel processors to its in-house M1 processors. These highly powerful chips enable longer battery life, improved graphics, and more efficient computer performance.  Following their release in 2020, Apple revenues surged by 70%.

Personal Life

In 2014, Tim Cook came out as the first openly gay Fortune 500 CEO. Since then, Cook has supported LGBTQ+ organizations and speaks out about LGBTQ+ events, such as raising concerns over laws like the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in Florida, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation in the classroom. 

Leadership Style

After Steve Jobs' passing, Tim Cook is credited for maintaining the stability of Apple while growing the company to stratospheric heights.

Cook’s management style involves organizing teams with dedicated project managers. These leads spearhead the product vision from beginning to end, determining the financing, staff, and resources to see the project through. Under this management style, teams don't act in silos, but rather collaborate and communicate often. They also are given the time to ensure that the project is completed at its highest level, ensuring that the product is ready.


When it comes to creativity, Cook discusses the reasons behind Apple’s groundbreaking products in an interview with Bloomberg:

“Creativity is not a process, right? It's people who care enough to keep thinking about something until they find the simplest way to do it. They keep thinking about something until they find the best way to do it. It's caring enough to call the person who works over in this other area, because you think the two of you can do something fantastic that hasn't been thought of before. It's providing an environment where that feeds off each other and grows.”


During his time as CEO, Tim Cook has faced controversies spanning from privacy to antitrust probes. In 2021, Apple came under scrutiny for its privacy practices. In addition to Tim Cook being outspoken about privacy as a human right, Apple introduced on-device content scanning to prevent child abuse, which has drawn skepticism. 

Additionally, Cook appeared before the House Judiciary Committee concerning the anti-competitive practices of its app store.

Apple has also been criticized for charging a 30% commission on purchases made on the app store platform. In 2021, Epic Games filed legal complaints about these practices, calling a judge to require Apple to "take all necessary steps to cease unlawful conduct and restore competition."

What Are Tim Cook’s Notable Accomplishments?

While his predecessor, Steve Jobs, is recognized for launching the MacBook, iPhone, and iMac, Tim Cook’s notable breakthroughs are seen in Apple’s operations, supply chain, and profit margins. 

For instance, during Cook’s first year at Apple, he helped the company reach profitability after a $1 billion net loss in the previous year. After transforming the company’s supply chain, Apple’s inventory turnover went from months to five days. Apple’s margins have also remained healthy during Cook’s tenure.

Most recently, Cook oversaw the launch of Apple’s M1 processors, driving greater vertical integration in the company’s supply chain. After 14 years, Apple ditched Intel’s chips for M1 processors that generated longer battery life and power efficiency.

Did Steve Jobs Select Tim Cook as Apple’s Next CEO?

Yes, six weeks before Steve Jobs passed away, he selected Tim Cook as CEO of Apple. Prior to his death, Steve Jobs included Cook in his succession plan. Jobs began grooming Tim Cook to be his predecessor in the early 2000s after being diagnosed with cancer. Between 2003 and his death in 2011, Jobs spent many hours mentoring Cook. They were close confidants.

In addition, Cook also spent two periods as interim CEO in 2004 and 2009 where he oversaw the launch of iPad 2 and iCloud.

How Is Tim Cook Different From Steve Jobs?

Compared to the larger-than-life Steve Jobs, known for his vision and charisma, Tim Cook is known for driving efficiency and performance. While Cook has not produced as many breakthrough products, he has overseen massive company growth, the launch of an Oscar-nominated studio, and supply chain precision.

In terms of management style, Jobs was a visionary leader, known for micromanaging and having an erratic temper. Cook, on the other hand, is known for his pragmatism and mastery of logistics. According to an interview in The Wall Street Journal, Cook is known for his "cautious, collaborative, and tactical" leadership style. 

The Bottom Line

After a decade as CEO of Apple, Tim Cook is arguably one of the most consequential business leaders today. Overseeing a multi-trillion dollar company with over a billion iPhone users globally, Apple is one of the most ubiquitous and profitable consumer brands. 

While Steve Jobs left big shoes to fill, Cook has made notable advancements across Apple, from supply chains and operations to products and services.

Article Sources
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