Currently Apple’s commander in chief since 2011, but formerly the second in command to one of the pioneers of modern-day computing, Tim Cook has quite the task set out for him. Today, you’ll learn exactly how he managed the daunting job of Chief Operating Officer of Apple, and how you can apply his philosophies to your own management
In today’s blog, we’re discussing Tim Cook, Apple’s former Chief Operating Officer and now current CEO, and his business practices that you can start to apply to your own business.
TIM COOK’S RESUME
Joining Apple in March of 1998, Tim Cook has quite a long history with the tech giant. Starting off as the senior vice president for worldwide operations, he already had a great head start in his career – so what did Steve Jobs see in him?
Well, Cook already had experience working as an executive for a variety of other companies. He spent 12 years at IBM, ultimately becoming its director of North American fulfilment. He later served as the COO of the computer resale division of Intelligent Electronics, and, in 1997, became the vice president for corporate materials at Compaq – just six months before he took on his role at Apple.
So, it’s clear that Cook had quite the resume when Jobs sought him out. He was COO for a four-year period, between January of 2007 and 2011 – so what did he do in that time and, more importantly, how did he do it?
WHAT HAS HE DONE FOR THE COMPANY?
One of Cook’s biggest contributions to the company and its day-to-day operations came before he was even COO. Quickly after becoming vice president for worldwide operations, he closed numerous factories and warehouses, opting instead to go for contract manufacturers – reducing the company’s inventory from months to days. He also predicted the importance of flash memory in future computing, and so in 2005, invested in many long-term deals in flash memory that would guarantee Apple a stable supply for years.
It was this investment that allowed the launch of the iPod Nano, the iPhone, and the iPad to go so smoothly. Cook’s actions were commended throughout Apple as it minimised costs and secured stable profits for the company.
So, what can we learn from this?
Cook is a great example of a leader that seeks out opportunity, and this talent could be attributed to his experience in the technology industry. He’s proactive, not reactive, constantly seeking out potential business avenues instead of waiting for them to come to him. Who knows what could have happened if he waited for other companies to see the potential of flash memory before Apple did? What’s more, he highlights the importance of committing to ideas and establishing a clear direction for your team – the deals he made lasted for years, they weren’t just short-term contracts, and it was this commitment that gave Apple a massive head-start over its competition.
WHAT’S HIS LEADERSHIP STYLE?
Cook is famous, or infamous, depending on how you view it, for his perfectionist style of management. His profile on the Wall Street Journal describes how "Middle managers today screen staff before meetings with Mr. Cook to make sure they're knowledgeable. First-timers are advised not to speak. ‘It's about protecting your team and protecting him. You don't waste his time,’ said a long-time lieutenant. If he senses someone is insufficiently prepared, he loses patience and says, ‘Next,’ as he flips a page of the meeting agenda, this person said, adding, ‘people have left crying.’”
Cook isn’t a people man; he’s a business man, and the company comes first. Reportedly, there was an incident where Apple shipped 25 computers to South Korea instead of Japan. While a mere 25 computers is nothing more than a minor accident, Cook was irritated, stating that “We’re losing our commitment to excellence.”
When you’re tasked with operating one of the biggest tech companies in the world, it’s understandable that you’d want to put your products first and ensure that you maintain a great reputation amongst your customers – even if that means being pedantic about seemingly small mistakes.
Whether you agree with his hyper-optimised leadership style or not, you can’t deny that it works.
HOW DOES HE DIFFER FROM STEVE JOBS?
As Cook was appointed as Apple’s CEO, the differences between him and Steve Jobs became highly apparent. In 2012, just a year after becoming CEO, he made major changes to the executive board of the company. Scott Forstall, who had been the senior vice president of iOS, resigned. While we can’t be sure, many people believe that Cook forced him to stand down, with one commentator claiming that Cook "decided to lance the boil as internal politics and dissent reached a key pitch" and that the new work culture being created was one of unity and harmony that meant "weeding out people with disagreeable personalities—people Jobs tolerated and even held close, like Forstall".
If it’s not clear to you by now, Tim Cook has no time or patience for disagreements under his leadership. He prefers an approach that is harmonious and without annoying disputes that simply serve to prolong project lengths and development time. This is starkly different from Jobs’ leadership style, with one journalist saying how "Apple's ability to innovate came from tension and disagreement."
While the Apple of the current day may not have the eccentricity and creativity it used to under Jobs’ leadership, you’d be ill-informed if you thought it was doing poorly. Since he’s been CEO, Cook has doubled the company’s revenue and profit, and has increased the market value from $348 billion to $1.9 trillion. While Jobs was undeniably riskier and an out-of-the-box thinker, Cook prefers a more conservative approach, finding holes in the market and capitalising on them while not putting his company at too much risk.
Another distinction between the two is their involvement with the actual creative process within their company – Jobs would make an effort to attend meetings at Apple’s design studio, while Cook rarely visits. Reportedly, at a 2012 meeting to review an early prototype of the Apple Watch, Cook wasn’t present. What’s more, Cook prefers to funnel Apple’s cash towards investors over research and development.
Colleagues and acquaintances who spoke to the Wall Street Journal said that Cook was a "humble workaholic with a singular commitment to Apple." Even long-time colleagues rarely socialized with Cook, and former assistants said that he doesn't often partake in personal events. Whether you prefer the involved, creative, and innovation-focussed philosophy of Jobs or the detached, rational, and business-minded ideology of Cook, there are many lessons to be learned from both that you can consider implementing within your own company.
HE INCORPORATES HIS VALUES INTO HIS LEADERSHIP
One of Cook’s biggest contributions to Apple was their newfound focus on sustainability. In fact, he’s made it clear that he values this mission even over the financial interests of the company – telling shareholders in 2014 that if they don’t share the company’s views on climate change and sustainability to “get out of the stock”. In a tweet, Cook wrote how “By 2030, Apple’s entire business will be carbon neutral — from supply chain to the power you use in every device we make. The planet we share can’t wait, and we want to be a ripple in the pond that creates a much larger change.”
While it receives the usual greenwashing claims that any company is expected to get, many environmental groups actually believe that Apple is taking a positive approach to sustainability. All of its global corporate operations are already carbon neutral, and there is a new focus on iOS development to ensure that new operating systems support a wide number of older iPhones, meaning that consumers won’t have to buy new phones each year to enjoy the latest features of new iOS updates. Why is this important for you to know? It’s a lesson in the importance of values. As a leader, you’re inevitably going to have to incorporate your own values into your leadership, and if Cook has demonstrated anything, it’s that these values won’t be detrimental to your company.
Leading a company as big and influential as Apple, whether as COO or CEO, is a daunting task. In an industry that is constantly innovating and changing with the times, it can be difficult to keep up. In his approach to leadership, Tim Cook has highlighted the importance of efficiency, proactivity, and perfectionism in ensuring that your company remains on top and outshines your competition.
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