Apple CEO Tim Cook: a Report Card

“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.