Who Would Apple’s Tim Cook Pick to Succeed Him?

Apple CEO Tim Cook

There might come a day when, heaven forbid, Apple CEO Tim Cook cannot perform his duties for some reason. As a result, like every corporation, Apple has a succession plan for its CEO. What might Apple’s look like?

Apple CEO Tim Cook
CEO Tim Cook, in good cheer, opens the amazing WWDC 2017 keynote.

The Criteria

There are several criteria. A candidate must have high-level executive management experience. That means being seasoned when it comes to making major corporate decisions about product, legal, production, personnel and financial issues. A good CEO must also be an effective ambassador to government.

A desirable Apple CEO is someone who is experienced in the spirit and legacy of what the company stands for. That suggests someone, in today’s era, who has come up through the ranks within the company and, preferably, knew Steve Jobs personally. Finally, that candidate executive must have a certain leadership and charisma, qualities that can well convey the important Apple messages to customers.

Sometimes, certain individuals are promoted to high level positions, say, senior vice president (SVP), because of honored accomplishments. Or as an incentive to stay with the company because that pay grade confers certain desirable benefits. An example would be Sir Jonathan Ive. But the day-to-day management of Apple would most certainly not be his desire or bailiwick.

In my experience, there is also a notion of doing the job you may be considered for, in some ways, before actually being promoted. That tends to rule out ordinary VPs who would have to skip the SVP phase to become CEO. In the case of Tim Cook, as COO, he was essentially running Apple during the illness of Steve Jobs in 2009-11. This management philosophy would, in principle, tend to rule out someone like VP Greg Joswiak

Finally, there is the experience and intuition of the current CEO. Some or all of the conventional considerations might boil down to Tim Cook’s personal belief and trust in a specific individual who might not otherwise appear to be the logical candidate. That happens because we only see the public face of some executives, and we might not like what we see on some occasions. But what we didn’t have the privilege of seeing was tough decisions that executive made behind the scenes in critical situations that led to great success.

In my opinion, based on all the above, and drawing from the executive profiles (the source for the photos below) there would seem to be two likely candidates.


Apple COO Jeff Williams COO Jeff Williams. Mr. Williams has shown himself to be an effective, well-received speaker at Apple Events. He spent 13 years at IBM before joining Apple. He understands Apple’s emphasis on health and privacy. He has overseen the development of the Apple Watch. He’s the current COO, a position that prepares one well for the CEO job. However, he may be a long shot because of his subdued personality. But then we said that about former COO Tim Cook.

Apple SVP Phil Schiller SVP Philip Schiller. Mr. Schiller is a dyed-in-the wool Apple executive and has been with the company for 20 years. He has broad and deep knowledge of Apple and its products. He has executive experience, having been involved in important decisions about Apple products and directions. He’s a popular and lively speaker at all Apple events and reveals his depth of understanding of customer needs. He serves on the board of Illumina. He recently took on the role of managing the App Store, taking over from Eddy Cue. That’s a big vote of confidence in him and could imply a bit of grooming for bigger things—if necessary.

Tim Cook has made his decision and expressed his desire in the corporate succession plan. If the need ever arises, Apple will be in good hands.

Note: It was a short, holiday week without a lot of interesting news debris. The normal two page format will return next week.

7 thoughts on “Who Would Apple’s Tim Cook Pick to Succeed Him?

  • I’m not sure if Apple needs another TC. I think it would be more beneficial for the company to have a young, daring CEO like Elon Musk to be the TC substitute in the future.

  • The one qualification not yet mentioned is that for a technology company, ideally you need a technologist at the helm for greater success. With a strong technologist, the vision thing is informed by considering points of view but keeping one’s own counsel. A weaker technologist can become a victim of their counselors’ agenda and related machinations. Wealth buys a certain amount of slack, if one from a different discipline needs to develop into a technologist. Ultimately for a technology company, its optimal to have a technologist CEO.

  • John Khelt – your views expressed in your two comments here aren’t unpopular with me. I agree with you (for the most part). Apple (and therefore us, as its’ customers) would be in a whole lot better shape if Tim Cook had kept Scott Forstall and let Ive go back in 2012.

    $10,000 gold watch? Pro machines gradually being stripped of everything that makes them Pro due to an unhealthy obsession with thinness? Thanks, Jony.

    And yes, the executives that Tim has kept / brought on board / subsequently let go because of their incompetence don’t exactly inspire confidence in his ability to pick his own successor.

    The only thing I’ll disagree with you on is Craig Federighi … OS X / macOS was waaaayyyyy more stable and bug free when Betrand Serlet led that team.

    My 2 cents worth…

    Old UNIX Guy

  • I’m going to take the unpopular view that if Jony Ive leaves, oh well. He hasn’t been around for a couple of years, and the sky hasn’t fallen. If he prevents apple from getting someone with drive to push the company forwardr, Apple could find another lead designer. Might be time for some new blood.

    It’s a good point about hardware, but CEO is more about vision. Not sure if steve was worse at programming or hardware, but it would be a pretty close race. 😀 so for me, it’s more about technical aggression and drive and vision. But I totally see your view as a fair one.

  • John
    To some extent I agree. That’s why I put it in the form of a near term and long term option. These two are likely the best they have available. Federighi is a maybe but I don’t think he has the hardware background. Forstall is just not going to return, and if he did Ives would leave. The two of them did not work and play well together.

    The two mentioned above would be fine if a meteor hits Cook in the next couple of years. But all of them are starting to push 60. They need someone in their 40’s now who would be in their 50’s when they took over. Someone brilliant and 35 would be even better. Sadly a lot of the senior people are getting up there. They look really awkward trying to get down with the people from Beats, or pitching shows for the AppleTV production. If that’s the direction Apple wants to go, they need someone from the next generation to lead them.

    Remember Satya Nadella of Microsoft is only 49. Look at what he’s done for that company.

  • I pray you’re wrong John. The only person with even a modicum of tech vision at the company is Craig Federighi. Honestly, they need a guy like Scott Forstall to bring the a$$hole back to apple, and some much needed vision and hunger.

    Plastic man phil is basically apple’s version of steve balmer and should be avoided at all costs. Jeff Williams seems a nice fellow, but honestly, he makes human-walking-ambian aka Tim Cook, look like a visionary personality dynamo. Angela Ahrendts major accomplishments are a) not sucking as much as Browett (tim’s first loser pick), b) planting trees in apple store; you get credit for not messing up the highest per square foot money makers in retail, and that does not somehow imbue you tech visionary skills.

    The reality is it’s somewhat slim pickings, but if you have any forward looking hope for the company, it’s pretty much only Craig, IMO.

    BTW, really great/thought provoking topic John!

  • Either would be good candidates. The only thing is that they are all around the same age as Tim Cook. I’d see them naming one of the two you mentioned as TC’s replacement for the next decade or so. But I’d also like to see them starting to look at someone about 20+ years younger to become the heir apparent. Move them into the COO position about the time TC reaches 65. Then into CEO five to ten years after that.

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