Apple's Tim Cook Should Develop More Investor Patience

Apple's CEO Tim Cook is a precise speaker, a low-key kind of guy. Sometimes what he says has to be examined very carefully for content, what we call Cook Code. If not done, that can lead to missed clues by investors who desperately need more confidence in Apple's ability to deliver. I want to explore this Tim Cook paradox.


I have written before, using a military analogy, that there are different kinds of captains of the ship. Some are boisterous, chummy with the crew and often greatly loved. Others are quiet, analytical and composed. There's no doubt they've been selected by their superiors as excellent leaders (and warriors), but not every member of the crew will have the same reaction to certain personality types.

Tim Cook is a low key person. That confuses some observers who equate physical energy with intelligence and leadership. (Think about Steve Ballmer's outrageous "Developers! Developers!")

So when Tim Cook speaks, it's very important to listen and learn from experience that he can be trusted. We must listen carefully and interpret the Cook Code.

Unfortunately, investors are in a big hurry for profits. It would be a lot easier if Tim Cook, instead of putting the company first and developing legendary products, would just amp up the volume, scream about how great Apple is, bow down to the analysts, betray Apple's long term strategy and spill some secrets so that investors could feel good about $AAPL. They want to hear that jingle of money in their pockets. See, for example, "How Apple CEO Tim Cook Infuriates Investors."

Mr. Cook's Words, Lost in the Noise

Back in December, Mr. Cook gave us a Christmas present wrapped in Cook Code. He announced to Apple employees, knowing that his forecast would be leaked: "We have a lot to look forward to in 2014, including some big plans that we think customers are going to love."

We can calibrate that statement. From various supply line leaks we think Apple is working on on an iWatch. Mr. Cook's own statements in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams has provided evidence of "intense interest" in television technology. We know these things are coming, but like kids on Christmas Eve, we jusy can't wait anymore.

Putting two and two together and stirring in some deferred gratification with wise attention to how long it takes to develop revolutionary products that customers love, it would seem that some investor patience is in order.

As usual, investors want their money, and they want it now. Can Tim Cook change his ways to satisfy them? First, we know that in pitched competition with Samsung, it's smart to keep your powder dry and your secrets under wrap. So spilling the beans only drives the stock down when the competition's copying engine heats up. Can he be more energetic and vocal in well timed and well placed interviews? Perhaps, but he's already done a lot of them, and it's hasn't had the desired effect. Can he provide hints in secret sessions with analysts who will then, with enthusiasm, set an aggressive buy rating? The Apple CEO has to be careful there, for the sake of appearance, because his pay is tied to AAPL stock.

In the end, I think it's just that people are hard of hearing. Sensationalism is the word these days, and a low-key professional has trouble making splashy headlines.

And yet.

Tipping the Balance?

I surmise that Mr. Cook, from time to time, does think about how fickle and impatient investors are. He may wish he could excite them and stir them to graceful patience. While tending to Apple, as a good steward, is really more important, I would urge that Mr. Cook think of new ways to instill and restore a certain special optimism in us all. Perhaps frequent, formal chats, with a favored interviewer rather than an obscure ABC discussion on a Friday night. Hope and enthusiasm automatically confer patience. This too is a responsibility of a CEO.

On the other hand, 2014 is the right time to deliver on the promise linked to above about new, lovable products. It'll be all hands on deck. Patience does run thin and money jingles.

It's a fine line for Mr. Cook to tread, balancing his calm cool demeanor and steady leadership against the urgent noise and desperate greed of the crowds. But we always do need something, on a frequent basis, to calm our nerves and build our patience.