There has been some discussion lately about Apple's Tim Cook being eyed as a possible candidate for the GM CEO position. Here's why Mr. Cook probably won't, and shouldn't, accept any such offer.
Not only am I well familiar with Mr. Cook, but during my tenure at Apple, I have met and briefly talked with the man. My take is that Tim Cook is a process man. He knows how to manage inventory, obtain favorable pricing, structure commodity contracts, and attack foreign marketing and process problems.
He is also a cast iron son-of-a bitch when required, but that is good. When I was in the Air Force, I noted that just about any young officer could work his way up to Lt. Colonel (O-5 grade), but to make full Colonel (O-6 grade), you had to be capable of being a son of a bitch. Step on toes. Get something done against huge obstacles. And not worry much of you're liked. Mr. Cook is a great Colonel.
However, the GM job requires something more. It requires someone who is familiar with the car industry and won't have to spend a year learning the business. It has to be someone who can both delegate tough assignments, based on experience, and assume a visionary leadership. All this is at a time when Toyota and Honda are chewing up American car companies with better manufacturing, better quality control, and a greater commitment to advanced engineering. In other words, that new GM CEO must have technical astuteness in the car industry, its competitive landscape, and incredible insight into what needs to be done next.
GM needs someone who can do for GM what Lou Gerstner did for IBM in the early 1990s: save the company from extinction.
Tim Cook's success at Apple is based on not only his experience and talents, but also on his knowledge of the computer industry and the tutelage of one of the finest CEOs ever, Steve Jobs. In fact, the skills required for the GM job are more in tune with what Steve Jobs has to offer, not Tim Cook. Not that Mr. Jobs is a car expert. He just has a better temperament for the challenges of that kind of job.
The chances of continued success with Apple are amazingly high for Mr. Cook. However, an ego-driven venture into the car industry presents many pitfalls and opportunities for failure. No doubt, Mr. Jobs has had that conversation with Mr. Cook.
It's not a question of playing it safe. It's a question of matching your talent to the challenges and building on success. I doubt Mr. Cook should or would risk all that at GM. Especially since he's probably the CEO heir apparent at Apple.