Tim Cook Speech Reveals Passion for Apple Products

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As we gathered around our radios to listen to Tim Cook’s Fireside Chat with the analysts at Goldman Sachs on Tuesday, we expected to hear about Chinese working conditions (we did), iPad trademarks (we didn’t), iPhone unit shipments (we did), and what Apple plans to do with the $97 billion in cash it holds (we did).

What we didn’t expect to hear was that Tim Cook is passionate about Apple’s products, but we did; and we didn’t expect to hear him choke up when talking about his role as Apple’s CEO, but we heard that, too.

Tim Cook: Product Guy?

Tim Cook: Product Guy?

While his comments about a possible Apple dividend will be latched on by Wall Street as the big take away from his speech at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, as fans of Apple’s products it was Mr. Cook’s passion that all of us in TMO Towers took as the coolest news from his speech.

As a huge believer in context being the king of all things, let me put this in perspective: Steve Jobs was a product guy. Steve Jobs talked about the importance of having product guys (or gals, I’m just using “product guy” as a convenient label) being in charge of companies that make products. To that end, he disparaged Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as being a marketing guy and how much not having a product guy had hurt that company.

This was a message I bought into. When Steve Jobs pointed it out to me, and I could apply what he said to the results I held in my own hands in the form of Apple products, it made a lot of sense. Apple believed in making a profit by making great products, and making great products is not something bean counters (Leo Apotheker at HP) or marketing guys (Steve Ballmer at Microsoft) can usually do.

As a fan of Apple products for so many years, the proof was in the pudding to me. Apple’s execs said again and again they focused on making great products that people would want to buy and let the profits take care of themselves. Why couldn’t everybody do that?

Then Mr. Jobs got sick and Tim Cook was named acting CEO of Apple. And then Mr. Jobs got even sicker and it became obvious that Mr. Cook was going to remain acting CEO. At the end of last year, it became official: Steve Jobs resigned as CEO and Tim Cook ascended to the throne as the actual CEO.

BUT WAIT?!? Tim Cook isn’t a product guy?!? He’s an operations guy, for god’s sake! What the hell? What happened to the importance of having a product guy at the helm of a company like Apple? Why not Jony Ive or Scott Forstall or something?! Those guys are product guys, right?

Well, yes. They are product guys, and it wouldn’t surprise me even a tiny bit if either one of them (especially Scott Forstall) became CEO of Apple some time in the future, but for now Tim Cook is the man. He was being rewarded for all his time and effort at manning the shop while Steve Jobs was sick, for having kept the company’s stock going up even while Steve Jobs, the master visionary, battled the illness that would eventually take his life.

How would this affect Apple? What will happen as Tim Cook the operations guy runs the company? Who will make all those key product decisions that Steve Jobs was so famous for making?

It turns out those of us thinking along those lines may have been mistaken. Yeah, it was only one interview, and it was only a few minutes with that interview at that, but what TMO’s staff heard was a passion for making great products that we’d never heard from Tim Cook before.

It wasn’t the words themselves, either, it was the way he said them. It began when he asked about Siri and how that technology fit into Apple. He said:

For years, if you were a PC or a Mac user, you used a physical keyboard and you used a mouse for input. There’s been evolution in that space, but not a lot of revolution, and then all of a sudden Apple comes out with MultiTouch on the MacBook Pro, and then extended that into Phones and tablets…

Like I said, it wasn’t the words, it was the passion with which he said them. He described Siri as this technology that he couldn’t imagine doing without now that he’s experienced it.

“This product…this beta product,” he said, and there was what I believe was genuine wonder in his voice. It was the kind of thing we got used to hearing from Steve Jobs, but we haven’t heard it from Tim Cook before.

Then he talked about iCloud and how Apple already has 100 million users of its cloud service, even though it was just launched this past fall. There was pride in his voice, a fierce pride that in this Apple service that was making such a mark on the world.

He proudly added that Apple doesn’t keep separate P&Ls (profit and loss statements) on products like Siri and iCloud. He said that Apple doesn’t hold products like that accountable for turning some kind of direct profit.

“You can’t make great products that way,” he explained. To me, those are the words of a product guy, not an operations guy.

Our own Dave Hamilton was the first to comment on it, saying, “Hearing Tim talk about Siri, it’s clear that he’s an excitable guy…passionate about products. I’ve never heard this before.”

We all quickly chimed in that we agreed.

The point got hammered home again when Bill Shope asked Mr. Cook about what kind of mark he would make on Apple as CEO. The emotions came pouring out as he described his take on piloting the U.S.S. Apple:

Apple is this unique company, this unique culture that you can’t replicate. And, I’m not going to witness or permit the slow undoing of it. Steve grilled in all of us that the company should revolve around great products and that we should stay extremely focused on just a few things rather than on so many that we can’t do any of them well.

These things, along with keeping excellence as an expectation of everything we do at Apple. These are the things that I focus on. Because I think those are the things that make Apple this magical place that makes smart people want to do not just their life’s work, but their life’s best work.

Dave Hamilton and Adam Christianson simultaneously noted in the Towers that Mr. Cook seemed like he was close to tears and was very choked up. I was frantically trying to transcribe it all, but that was went through my mind, too.

On the assumption that the emotions are genuine, what this interview showed us is that Tim Cook may be much more of a product guy than many of us gave him credit for, and it emphasized how much he cares about the company he helped Steve Jobs build as “the operations guy.”

The Wall Street guys might not get the importance of that, but those of us who love Apple products should very much appreciate the importance of having someone committed to its products at the helm of the company. Tim Cook showed us today that he has that commitment, that love of a great product, and the love of having a company focused on making them.

Comments

Ted Landau

Yup. Marketing guys are essentially sales people The mark of success is being able to sell the product. The quality of the product itself is secondary. In extreme cases, it can even be a negative. That is, one’s personal talent is more showcased if you can sell a poor product than a great one (“anyone can sell a great product”).

Product guys live and breathe to make great products. Sales are secondary…although there is usually a belief that a great product will sell well (assuming the public shares your perception of what makes the product great and it gets marketed well).

Jobs nailed it when he put the emphasis on product guys. It’s especially critical after you’ve been successful. Marketing types will tend to focus more on how to keep up sales of existing products. Product guys will focus more on developing new products to drive sales. Given a choice, I’ll take product guys every time.

To be fair, the lines are not as black-and-white as I’ve implied here. And neither role is superfluous. But the divide drifts in the directions described. I certainly hope you are right about Mr. Cook.

Paul Goodwin

This is really great to hear. Product focus is where they’ve always been since Jobs came back. During the lean years when he was gone, they weren’t offering stuff that was stunning, and lost their way.

Lee Dronick

Well this was an interesting story. I am very pleased.

rwahrens

“What we didn?t expect to hear was that Tim Cook is passionate about Apple?s products,”

I truly don’t see why not.  If Steve jobs hadn’t seen that kind of commitment in Cook, do you really think he and the board would have approved Cook as even an interim CEO?  Really?

Come on, the top management of Apple has talked of nothing but products and how they have a commitment to make great ones, and I haven’t seen Steve’s death change that.  Even if Cook hasn’t specifically SAID it himself, the fact that top management is still talking that way says something, but it took Cook to articulate it before you believed it?

Oh, ye of little faith!

Dave Hamilton

I truly don?t see why not.? If Steve jobs hadn?t seen that kind of commitment in Cook, do you really think he and the board would have approved Cook as even an interim CEO?? Really?

The reason we didn’t expect to hear it—and the reason I was quite pleasantly surprised—was that we’ve never seen or heard this kind of passion publicly from Tim Cook before. If you haven’t listened to the audio, I encourage you to do so—his emotion about Apple’s products (and about continuing to pursue excellence in their future products) is palpable. He sounded on the verge of tears when talking about Siri and how much he loves it.

Again, in the context you describe, rwahrens, it makes perfect sense. But that was all just theoretical. Until yesterday we’d never seen it as real.

mrmwebmax

+

Jobs nailed it when he put the emphasis on product guys. It?s especially critical after you?ve been successful. Marketing types will tend to focus more on how to keep up sales of existing products. Product guys will focus more on developing new products to drive sales. Given a choice, I?ll take product guys every time.

Same here (and I’m a marketing guy!). And there was no better example of this, IMHO, than when Apple killed the iPod mini at the height of its popularity—the most popular music player at the time!—and introduced the iPod nano in its place. Talk about focusing on making great new products rather than keeping up sales of existing ones!

Black_Dog

I truly don?t see why not.  If Steve jobs hadn?t seen that kind of commitment in Cook, do you really think he and the board would have approved Cook as even an interim CEO?  Really?

Walter Isaacson quotes Steve Jobs as saying that Cook wasn’t really a product guy (I don’t have the book in front of me right now so I can’t quote or cite this exactly - but I finished the biography last week and the quote is in one of the last chapters).

rwahrens

Black_Dog;

Go read Daring Fireball:

http://daringfireball.net/2012/02/walter_isaacson_steve_jobs

About Isaacson’s accuracy on Jobs’ attitudes.  I wouldn’t trust what Isaacson said about that at all.

I still think that neither Jobs nor the Apple Board would have seriously considered Cook as a permanent replacement for Jobs if he hadn’t exhibited the excitement about “product” that made Jobs such a successful CEO.  He would have remained as a highly successful operations manager.

Come on, that is a subject of the Apple University - inspiring that attitude into Apple employees and management!  Cook has what, over ten years at Apple?  ...working with Steve?  How could you do that, working day to day with the man, and not be infected (or Affected) somehow?

It may not have been explicitly stated, but really, could it be doubted?  That has to be one of the top requirements for an Apple CEO, now that Steve is gone.  They’d be stupid to drop it, knowing how they do that it was so crucial a part of Steve’s drive and personality that was so instrumental to his success.

Yeah, nice to see it displayed, but to me, it wasn’t a surprise at all, merely good to see.

Black_Dog

About Isaacson?s accuracy on Jobs? attitudes.  I wouldn?t trust what Isaacson said about that at all.

As I recall, it was a direct quote from Jobs, not an editorial Isaacson aside (if I get home at a reasonable time tonight, I’ll look it up). Nonetheless, Jobs frequently lied, grossly exaggerated, and sometimes fell under the influence of his own reality distortion vapors (maybe LDS flashbacks?), so The Man himself isn’t always the most reliable source.

I agree with you that Jobs would not have installed Cook as CEO if he feared that Cook would be another Sculley (i.e. destroy his legacy). But at the same time I find it consistent with everything I know about Jobs that he was the source of some of the “Cook isn’t a product guy” criticism floating around out there. Jobs was complicated that way.

rwahrens

“Jobs was complicated that way.”

Indeed he was!  I’d not be surprised.

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