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Apple's CEO steps out of Steve Jobs' shadow

Tim Cook underscores the difference in style and substance between himself and the company's legendary co-founder

December 08, 2012|Chris O'Brien
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook unveils the iPad Mini in October. He has dramatically expanded the pace of Apple’s product introduction, including the iPad Mini at a size that Steve Jobs once dismissed as too small.
Apple CEO Tim Cook unveils the iPad Mini in October. He has dramatically… (Kevork Djansezian, Getty…)

After tiptoeing out of the long shadow of Steve Jobs this last year, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook took a giant leap into the spotlight this week.

In a kind of transparency rarely practiced by his enigmatic predecessor, Cook granted a pair of candid interviews that underscored the difference in both style and substance between the two men.

They also served as the latest sign of how Cook has embraced the Apple motto to "Think Different" as he methodically and quietly reshapes the culture and business of the company he inherited.

"He's the kinder, gentler Apple," said Carl Howe, a longtime Apple analyst for market advisory firm International Data Corp.

"This is a big, multinational corporation. I think Tim has done a better job of recognizing that," Howe said. "Jobs could remember when it was just three guys in a garage. When you get to be one of the largest companies in the world, you need a different skill set."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, December 13, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Tim Cook: An article in the Dec. 8 Business section about Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said that Apple analyst Carl Howe works for market advisory firm International Data Corp. Howe is with the communications research firm Yankee Group.

Cook has dramatically expanded the pace of Apple's product introduction, rolling out in the last 60 days the iPhone 5, a new iPad, upgrades to the iPod line and the new iPad Mini at a size that Jobs once dismissed as too small.

But Cook also addressed the tone of Apple when he restructured management by dismissing an executive who had been a favorite of Jobs to emphasize collegiality over confrontation.

Such a break has drawn some applause. But it has not been without risks, analysts said. And there have been stumbles, as witnessed by the Apple Maps controversy that raised questions about whether the Cupertino, Calif., company's design instincts had weakened without the heavy hand of Jobs to guide them to perfection.

Analysts also acknowledge the general concern that Cook still may not have the chops to push more new products down the pipeline -- electronics that change the way people work and live.

In recent weeks, Apple's stock has experienced extraordinary volatility amid questions about its slipping market share and prospects for growth. Since reaching an all-time closing high of $702.10 in September, shares have fallen nearly 25%, closing Friday down $13.99, or 2.6%, at $533.25. . It has lost a staggering $159 billion in market value.

Still, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Cook insisted that the blessing to change direction and chart his own course came from Jobs himself in the weeks before the company's co-founder died last year.

"He goes, 'I never want you to ask what I would have done,' " Cook recalled. " 'Just do what's right.' He was very clear."

Longtime Apple observers said Cook has taken that advice to heart, though at his own pace.

"He didn't simply want to start as CEO by making radical changes," said Regis McKenna, the Silicon Valley marketing legend who began working with Apple in its earliest days. "He doesn't do precipitous acts just to be different. He is thoughtful and methodical. He does things because he thinks they're right."

The latest and most surprising change that resulted from Cook's deliberative process was revealed Thursday when he announced in the interviews with Bloomberg and NBC News' "Rock Center With Brian Williams" that Apple intended to move some of its manufacturing back to the United States.

Cook said the company would invest $100 million to begin building some Mac computers domestically, though he didn't specify the location. Apple assembles some products in the U.S., but it doesn't disclose how many or where.

Just as remarkable to many observers were the reasons: Cook said he believed that the company did have an obligation to play a social role above and beyond the goal of fattening the bottom line.

"I do feel we have a responsibility to create jobs," Cook told Bloomberg. "I don't think we have a responsibility to create a certain kind of job, but I think we do have a responsibility to create jobs. I think we have a responsibility to give back to the communities, to pick ways that we can do that."

Tim Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies, said the amount of manufacturing moved to the U.S. was likely to be small. Though it might bolster Apple's reputation, he said, that probably wasn't the main motivation for Cook.

Still, Cook's comments were unlikely ever to have come from Jobs, who bristled at such notions as the company's social impact and charitable giving.

One of the first big departures for Cook was the way he handled mounting criticism of the labor practices of Apple's overseas manufacturing partners, particularly the Foxconn plants in China that faced accusations of overworking and underpaying sometimes-underage employees.

After touring Chinese factories, Cook raised the standards that partners were expected to meet. He signed on with the Fair Labor Assn. to conduct independent inspections of Apple suppliers.

Cook's experience building and running Apple's supply chain put him in closer touch with those who make the company's products, Howe said. The creation of Apple's world-class manufacturing system had been his crowning achievement.

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