Apple Inc founder and Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs is prone to fits of passion, table pounding and screaming.
Tim Cook, who will oversee the company while Jobs takes medical leave, never raises his voice. Still, Cook’s management style won’t be a shift for employees. He’s been quietly running the company for several years, said Mike Janes, who worked with the executive for five years at Apple.
“Steve is the public face of Apple and nothing beats when he goes out and says, ‘Ta-da,’” said Janes, who ran Apple’s online store. “But at the end of the day, someone has to take all those amazing product designs and turn them into that big pile of cash you see in the company’s bank account. That’s Tim.”
Known for marathon meetings and late nights at the office, Cook will have to keep Apple running smoothly until Jobs’s planned return in June -- all while reassuring investors that he shares Jobs’s flair for marketing and innovation. Jobs has personified Apple since he returned to the Cupertino, California-based company in 1997.
Cook, 48, has filled in for Jobs before, during the CEO’s cancer treatment in 2004. Jobs, 53, underwent surgery for a rare form of pancreatic cancer that year, keeping him away from Apple for more than a month. Cook’s earlier stint should help calm investors’ concerns, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupitermedia Corp, who has covered Apple for 13 years.
“He has significant responsibility for making sure the trains run on time in Cupertino,” he said. “It worked out fine for Apple the last time it happened. We’ve no reason to believe it won’t this time.”
Cook already expects his direct reports to be on call at all hours, Janes said. In 2002, Janes flew with Cook to Singapore to meet with regional staff. After a plane ride spent on the phone, Cook went directly to the office and held an eight-hour meeting, fuelled by his ever-present energy bars.
Apple shares dropped as much as 11 per cent yesterday after the company announced the medical leave. Jobs had said the week before that he would remain at Apple during treatment for a nutritional ailment. The illness caused Jobs to lose weight last year, fuelling speculation that his health was deteriorating.
“It’s the price you pay for the success of having a great leader,” said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co in Minneapolis. He has recommended Apple’s shares since June 2004 and doesn’t own them himself. “I’d much rather have the great leader and deal with their transition out of the company, rather than have no great leader at all.”
Analysts and shareholders are used to Cook’s slow, Southern drawl from Apple’s conference calls. Born in Mobile, Alabama, Cook earned an engineering degree from Auburn University in his home state and a master’s of business administration from Duke University in North Carolina.
He sits on the board at Nike Inc, the world’s largest maker of sneakers, and is an avid biker. Apart from Cook’s athletic side, Janes says he knows nothing about the man’s interests.
Cook was brought on in 1998 to overhaul Apple’s inefficient manufacturing and logistics. At the time, the company’s Macintosh customers were switching to cheaper machines from Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. He had previously been a vice president at Compaq Computer Corp. and spent 12 years at International Business Machines Corp.
Even with his soft-spoken manner, Cook’s “relentless” questioning can wear down and terrify poorly prepared underlings, Janes said.
“He is the master of the Socratic method -- he will continue to ask why and why and why,” said Janes, who is now CEO of an event-ticket search-engine company called FanSnap Inc in Palo Alto, California. “If you’re not prepared, it can be a very uncomfortable place.”
Apple’s employees have a good sense of Jobs’s thinking, making it easier to stay on the same track, said Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who left the company in the 1980s. “Everyone knows what he wants most at Apple while he is away,” he said.
While Jobs guides product development, other managers do most of the work designing the devices. Senior Vice President Jonathan Ive helped create the distinctive look of products such as the iPhone. Bob Mansfield, also a senior vice president, leads the team that developed the ultra-thin MacBook Air.
Like Jobs, Cook has a strong passion for Apple and can inspire deep loyalty among employees, Janes said.
If Jobs ultimately can’t return to the company, Apple will probably opt for a team approach: using Cook for his operational strengths and other leaders for design and marketing, said Ashok Kumar, senior research analyst at Collins Stewart Plc.
“Tim and his team at Apple are extremely strong and perhaps underrated by the general public,” said Accel Partners’ Jim Breyer, a venture capitalist. “At the same time, Steve Jobs is a true product genius who is simply one of the great entrepreneurs of not only our lifetime, but of the 20th and 21st centuries.”