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How Steve Jobs Helped Guarantee Tim Cook’s Success At Apple

Last week, Tim Cook celebrated his anniversary of being Apple s CEO. He assumed this role before Steve Job s death and has done what my British friends would be called a Bang-Up job. 

The two charts below show exactly how successful Cook has been since he took over the CEO role. Apple s market cap went from billion to trillion in those ten years. And Apple s share price grew tenfold under his leadership.

Apple s share price growth under Tim Cook’s leadership for the last ten years.

When Tim Cook took over as CEO, I was bombarded with media and other industry requests about Cook and was asked if I thought he could be successful. I went on record on both TV and in print saying that Tim Cook was not only the right person to take this role, but that I was extremely bullish about his success potential. I was certain of this because I had a strong knowledge of Job’s role of preparing Cook for the CEO position. I got a lot of negative feedback for my viewpoint, and those who remember this time saw a lot of negative commentary about Cook that neither he nor anybody else could replace Steve Jobs. 

On that last point, I agreed with this view. Jobs was a very unique person whose vision and gut feel about what consumers would want well before they knew what they needed was unparalleled. In that sense he was one-of-a-kind. However, his actual management skills, especially in the early s, and even when he was at NeXT, were often called into question. 

During Jobs’s first stint at Apple, before he was forced to leave the company in , I had a few interesting encounters with him and his management style. One particular one that stood out happened in the early days of Apple management crafting their Desktop Publishing strategy. Jobs, and then CEO, John Sculley, knew of my research on this topic. They asked me to come and meet with them to go over a new marketing focus on which they wanted my feedback. 

As we were going through the new marketing material, a manager with direct reports to Jobs knocked on the door and interrupted our meeting. Jobs let him in and he told Jobs about some idea or issue for which he sought Jobs feedback. Jobs had been known for his outbursts at employees, and suffice it to say, I saw one of these confrontations in person. Using expletives, Jobs told the manager, in no uncertain terms, that he did not know what he was talking about. He chastised this guy in a very loud manner. 

Jobs’ lack of management skills was a big part of why Apple s board forced him out, although there were other issues that caused this rift. History shows that removing Jobs at that time, was the right decision. 

When he started NeXT, his management style was still confrontational. However, towards the end when it became clear that his vision for NeXT would not be successful, his management style calmed down significantly. A few friends who worked for NeXT until its demise has told me that in a way, Jobs was humbled by this defeat, and believed he learned some serious life lessons he would need in his second career at Apple. 

When Jobs came back to Apple as CEO or interim CEO as he called it in, I met with him on his second day in charge of his old company. We talked about what he would do to save Apple, which included going back and taking care of their core customers as well as putting a big emphasis on industrial design. I had interacted directly with Jobs since, but Jobs was very different compared to the one I knew when he was last at Apple. He clearly had matured and had a much calmer demeanor. He seemed to be more focused. 

I remember walking away from that meeting shaking my head and questioning who was the guy I just met with at Apple HQ. He was % different than the last time he and I had met in person in. 

It turned out that one of the life lessons Jobs learned while he was in his wilderness period at NeXT and the years between the closing of NeXT and going back to Apple, was the importance of mentoring and preparing his management team to be less dependent on him. While at Apple in the early days, he micromanaged just about everything related to running the company. 

However, when he returned to Apple, he was more willing to delegate responsibility, and more importantly, learned to rely on and trust his top managers. 

One particular manager he leaned on was Tim Cook. He had come to Apple from IBM and was a no-nonsense, get-things-done type of person. When Jobs came back to Apple in he found Apple s supply chain in total disarray. He tasked Tim Cook to clean up their supply chain and by, Apple had a world-class manufacturing operation and supply chain. There were other top managers he began to trust, like Phil Schiller, who became head of WW Marketing, but it was Cook who impressed him the most. 

We now know that even by the time Jobs was diagnosed with cancer, he had begun a more intense process of mentoring Cook. And we know now that he saw him as his successor. While Jobs lived for another eight years, he spent countless hours with Cook, and other lieutenants mentoring and tutoring them during those years. In hindsight, we now know he was preparing them for a time when he would not be there to guide them. 

One other thing you might not know about Apple is that all Apple management hires go through a very intense onboarding process when they come to Apple. Apple is very unique and has its own culture. If a new management person does not learn about Apple s culture and how they operate, they would fail miserably. That onboarding process has become legendary and is why so many people at Apple are still lifers. 

This is why I was so confident that when Tim Cook took over as CEO, that he would be successful. He spent years learning Jobs’ thought process and the way he would go about making decisions when he came back to Apple. Tim Cook is by no means a Mini-Me of Jobs. He is his own man and highly trained thinker and manager. 

However, he developed this level of leadership under Jobs’s tutelage. His decisions on driving Apple forward are clearly his own. Jobs prepared him for the role and was willing to entrust Apple s future to him, without any hesitations. Jobs -year process of preparing a successor at Apple is why its sales and price share are soaring. Tim Cook continues to carry on Jobs’s overall vision for Apple and I still expect him to excel in this role for years to come.

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