Twenty-three years ago, when Tim Cook was studying for his MBA, he produced a 25-year plan of his anticipated career trajectory, says The Independent on Sunday. It said nothing about becoming chief executive of the world's largest technology company. "I didn't understand it then, but life has a habit of throwing you curve balls," says Cook. It was perhaps his first lesson as understudy to the mercurial Steve Jobs. Now he faces one of the toughest challenges in corporate history: maintaining the latter's extraordinary legacy.
Unlike Jobs, who led a gilded Californian life before dropping out of college to meditate in India before starting Apple out of a garage, he's the sort of man "who makes the trains run on time". The son of an Alabama shipyard worker, Cook studied engineering before sorting out the supply chains of such solid corporate worthies as IBM and Compaq. When he joined Silicon Valley's most disruptive firm in 1998, it was against the advice of his peers. Apple then was so down and out that few reckoned even Jobs could revive it, says the San Jose Mercury News. But Cook took an uncharacteristic decision. "No more than five minutes into my interview with Steve, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind."
It was Cook's "unflappable" manner that apparently sealed the deal for Jobs, says Gawker.com. But don't let that deceive you. Like Jobs he is a workaholic, rising before dawn to work out, and bombarding underlings with emails and texts at all hours. He keeps an exhaustive catalogue of Apple's operations in his head and expects his charges to do the same. "Someone should be in China driving this," he reportedly observed during a meeting about problems in Asia. Thirty minutes later, he turned to a subordinate and asked calmly, "Why are you still here?" The man immediately left for the airport.
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When Cook was first touted as a possible successor to Jobs back in 2004, he was seen as a "blank slate", says Fortune. Despite being hailed by Out magazine as "the most powerful gay man in the world", he keeps his private life well under wraps. But analysts have come to recognise his crucial role in transforming Apple into one of the leanest, meanest logistics machines on the planet. That "seemingly dull stuff" has been as crucial to the firm's success as "the gorgeous designs and ultra-cool marketing".
"Jobs has the charisma. He's the icon, the historic figure," concludes long-time Apple-watcher Tim Bajarin. "But when you meet Tim, you feel like he's in control. He's steering the ship."
For the moment, the markets seem to believe that that will be enough, says Lex in the FT. And somehow you can't help feeling the company "may be close to reaching something like corporate maturity". Apple's great adventure may have run its course.
What we can learn from the Book of Jobs
"Rarely has any living man received as many obituaries as Steve Jobs over the past week," says Andrew Leonard on Salon.com. He's been described as "the Thomas Edison of the century"; the world's first "auteur" chief executive: a visionary capable of continually reinventing himself and thinking way beyond the zeitgeist a genius up there with Wittgenstein and Picasso. Jobs didn't just build the world's most successful company, and some of its most beautifully designed products, he inspired a cult. As Shelly Palmer, a technical consultant at Advanced Media Ventures, puts it: "Apple is a religion."
Spare me the histrionics, says Rhodri Marsden in The Independent. Jobs might be mobbed by customers shouting "we love you", but Apple's products have always been overhyped and overpriced. And while he's credited with rescuing the music industry with iTunes, he did it by creating a "tied-in" model, giving customers little choice but to remain loyal. That's the nub of it, agrees Hugo Rifkind in The Times. Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates have both taken flak for attempting to monopolise their industries. Apple's "ruthlessly capitalistic" approach to content has been no different. Its "nasty innards" have simply been "hidden by a shiny exterior".
So Jobs wasn't always a nice guy, says Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times. So what? "Monstrous strength of will... was needed to impose his vision on an almost insanely competitive market." Sure, it's easy to rhapsodise over Jobs' track record from building the world's first great personal computer, to transforming the music, telephone and film businesses. But he appeals to me on a more "primal, redemptive level", concludes Leonard on Salon.com, as "the great comeback kid", who got pushed out of his own company and returned triumphantly to lead it to unthinkable success. "Thanks, Steve, for setting a great example... the world is what you make it."
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