How Apple’s Tim Cook Avoided the Trap Other CEOs Fell Into

Apple CEO Tim Cook

A recent article reminds us how powerful the influence of Steve Jobs has been on Tim Cook. It remains today.

It all started when I read this essay by Chris Matyszczyk at ZDNet,  Where have all the great tech leaders gone?” It’s an interesting rundown of the modern day CEOs, their foibles, and how they can’t seem to capture our respect and imagination.

Except for Tim Cook.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

I can’t go on without being circumspect about author Matyszczyk’s encapsulation of each CEO with a few snarky sentences. I calibrated his comments via what he said about Satya Nadella, someone I’ve studied more than most anyone except Apple executives. Some of his descriptions are off the mark, but no matter.

After a litany of CEO foibles, Matyszczyk turns his attention and admiration to Tim Cook.

Apple’s CEO has the advantage of selling likable — occasionally lovable — products. Moreover, he does reflect a certain sincerity when he speaks on topics such as privacy and equality. It’s easy to believe he still has something of a soul.

He also exudes a slight reluctance to be a hero. You might think this is what heroes should do — be a little aw, shucks about the whole hero thing.

The Education of Tim Cook

I’d like to pick up where Matyszczyk leaves off. The real story here is the years Tim Cook spent at Apple watching and learning from Steve Jobs. Few CEOs have had the honor and benefit of being mentored by him.

For example, we see the modern Tim Cook as the CEO of the “iPhone” company in 2018. It’s easy to forget that Tim Cook joined Apple in 1998. It wasn’t until 2011 that Cook became CEO. In those first 13 years, Cook lived and breathed Apple under the tutelage of one of the greatest tech industry minds of our time.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs

What did Cook learn? He watched the passion and humanity of Steve Jobs who believed that products are all about inspiring us and bringing out the best in us. Jobs lived at the intersection of technology and the humanities and showed how to bring forth products that we truly admire for what they enable us to achieve.

Contrast that to the modern mantra of other modern CEOs who may have the best of intentions, buy never had this kind of training. And there’s another factor. The very nature of the internet has been twisted so as to profit from he most innocent intentions of its users. The temptation to exploit this ready capability is overwhelming. Absent any other example to learn from, the money making machine of treating people as product to be sold is hard to resist.

If Tim Cook seems to be the last honorable CEO standing, it’s because of his exposure to Steve Jobs and his current day selection of executives who believe in the values of Steve Jobs. Tim Cook’s continued vision, punctuated by the new Apple Park building, dedicated to the spirit of Apple’s co-founder, remains a lasting testament to, perhaps, the greatest technical visionary ever.

Those are big shoes to fill. Sadly, many modern CEOs, while competent, don’t have that awesome legacy to live up to or example to learn from. Mr Cook, however, carries the weight of history well.

One thought on “How Apple’s Tim Cook Avoided the Trap Other CEOs Fell Into

  • Great perspective John – everyone forgets that Tim Cook spent many years at Apple under Jobs’ mentorship. Yet he doesn’t blindly follow the “Jobs Way” either, as Cook doesn’t seem to berate his employees the way Jobs reportedly did. I don’t think you need to do that to motivate people or get the best out of them, and so I’ glad Tim sees it that way too. Wasn’t it Tim as well who initiated payment of a dividend on AAPL stock? Jobs wasn’t in favor of that if I recall…

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