Apple CEO Tim Cook: a Report Card

| Hidden Dimensions

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy..” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tim Cook has been the full-time CEO of Apple since August 2011. The new captain of the ship is steadily earning our confidence.

One of the things we all worried about, when it was clear that Steve Jobs was very ill, was who the new leader of Apple would be. Some foolishly thought it would be Jonathan Ive or Scott Forstall. Others wisely knew that it could only be Tim Cook.

Tim Cook, CaptainBut in pondering Mr. Cook, there was still concern whether the COO could be a visionary and continue to lead Apple into new product frontiers. He didn’t have the storied past of Steve Jobs. Instead, he worked behind the scenes in a more administrative role, making sure the machinery of Apple was well oiled.

Could he demonstrate the same ability to sense the Next Big Thing? Would he have the same fine-tuned product sense — what to add and what to leave out? Would he have the same charisma that drew people to Apple? Would he have the same fanatic attention to detail?

It’s now clear, I believe, that those concerns were premature. The Apple product line has tremendous momentum. It will be a while before Mr. Cook has to think deeply about what comes after the iPad and how it will evolve.

Right now, the task at hand is to steady the ship. He’s the new captain, and he has to earn confidence, not make any big mistakes, and avoid doing something rash or that’s not in his nature.

Some Immediate Results

When a charismatic leader departs, for whatever reason, some would hope that the new leader will be just the same. That desire surfaces to the consciousness of the new leader. But he should resist that temptation. Instead he should be true to himself. A rash gesture to be just like the other guy, in order to be loved (or feared), just doesn’t end well. Instead, as I’ve written before, each new captain of the ship has his own strengths. He should remain true to his instincts and those strengths.

Tim Cook is showing exactly those strengths. Without trying to dramatically alter the course of Apple, he has delivered, instead, a steadying influence. He’s done a few things differently that express his own values without threatening, whatsoever, what’s good about Apple. I’ve been keeping a list.

By taking these small steps, Mr. Cook is reinforcing the confidence of both Apple employees and customers. After all, it was only a short time ago when some said that Apple would abruptly fail without Steve Jobs at the helm.

It will be years, perhaps a decade, before we can look back on Apple and decide whether Tim Cook was able to provide the needed product inspiration and evolution. Steve Jobs was driven by demons that Tim Cook doesn’t have, yet Mr. Cook can draw upon that legacy and draw upon the best spirit of Apple without necessarily being driven by the same demons. Time will tell.

For now, however, Tim Cook gets great marks for fixing a few things that have irritated us, gently correcting, with mid-course maneuvers, some things that Mr. Jobs wouldn’t allow, continuing to speak effectively and eloquently about Apple, its products and vision, and steer the ship through the rough waters caused by the departed founder.

If what Mr. Cook has done in these few months is any indication, Apple is in great shape with this new CEO.

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“Tim Cook has been the full-time CEO of Apple since early October 2011. The new captain of the ship is steadily earning our confidence.”

hasn’t he been the CEO since August?

John Martellaro

Reader dswoodley is correct. I and my proofreader flubbed the date.


Good article all the same!  I think Cook is a more well-rounded, even keeled CEO than Jobs.  Perhaps less driven, but also less of a lightening rod controversy. He’ll never have the celebrity following of Jobs, but is that really a bad thing???


I’m not so sure Tim doesn’t need to think about the “next big thing” now. Remember that the idea for iPad was conceived at least 25 years ago (Apple Knowledge navigator) and Steve, I’m sure,  has been steadily working toward that product in one way or another since then.

iPad is only so great because Steve and others with him had been checking and advancing technological progress that eventually allowed iPad to be produced at the quantity and with the quality, price, and market maturity that Apple now enjoys. Tim needs to be thinking decades into the future.


I’m not saying that Tim is a bad CEO, but I think you’re stretching for a few.

The avoidance of an ill-considered, dramatic change to the Apple TV (3rd generation) and backwards software compatibility with the 2G model. That showed restraint and great customer focus.

Wha?  I assume that if he’d done a whole new Apple TV, you’d've complimented him on that?  And what do you mean, “keeping backwards compatibility”—it runs iOS.  And since the apps are ones that Apple puts on there—no iTunes Aop Store for Apple TV—I would imagine that they wouldn’t break.

The intervention with AT&T on behalf on an iPhone customer.

While that’s a wonderful thing, it also tells me something else:  The Locks on the iPhone are at Apple’s behest—not AT&T’s as is commonly thought.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t have to get Apple’s permission.

As CEO, I’d rather he just allow people to unlock their phones once their contract is up.  That seems like the right thing to do.  Hey, Tim, now that you’re CEO, why don’t you change that?


While Tim Cook has handled his job well so far, IMO, there are glitches and challenges yet to be resolved.  As well as new products, there are Siri issues, iCloud, iPad 3 “warmth”, legal issues, etc. While it doesn’t unfold like the Knowledge Navigator, the iPad does much of what was envisioned in that fabled video.

The un/locking of phones, or other mobile devices, is a big issue that may take concerted consumer action (via an initiative process) or legislation. What if mobile devices were required to automatically unlock 2 years after sale? Or via a consumer fee before that?  Count me in.

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