If, Heaven Forbid, Tim Cook Were Hit by a Bus, Who Would Be His Successor?

| Editorial

Jeff Williams. Credit: Apple's Leadership page

Back in 2011 when Steve Jobs was very ill, the subject of a corporate succession plan came up. Nowadays, with a vigorous and healthy Tim Cook, there are no worries. However, a formal CEO succession plan is still necessary. Who's on it?


The subject of an Apple CEO successor is a delicate one. First, Tim Cook is healthy and will be the Apple CEO for many more years. But Apple still has a corporate responsibility to plan for the unexpected.

When we as observers think about that subject, it's tempting to pick our favorite Apple executive. Some are charming. Most are brilliant. A few are very good looking. Most are articulate. However, it's not a contest of fan favorites, and there are serious factors that come into play. We must admit that they trump our game of an executive beauty contest.

The Metrics

Ten years ago, not only did Tim Cook have to prove himself to Steve Jobs with brilliant supply chain management, but he also had to demonstrate a certain temperament. A CEO candidate has to not only want the job, but he has to be willing to tread the fine line between being well respected but also being demanding. Stories are legion about Tim Cook's stern demeanor that can invoke great personal tension and subsequent brilliant performance. Yet, we know that Mr. Cook has also generated an atmosphere at Apple with less sheer fear. It's just about a perfect military leadership model.

One doesn't go to extreme personal limits for a leader who isn't respected and who doesn't demand the best from everyone.

That's not to say that there aren't several Apple executives with high skill levels and good natured personalities. But the demands of a company of Apple's wealth, size and power create huge personal demands. Not every senior vice president aspires to the job.

This would absolutely rule out Sir Jonathan Ive, a rather shy visionary who isn't comfortable on the live stage. His role is the behind the scenes designer. 

And so we must look instead to outward signs. Who is being put in a position of leadership? Who is being thrust into the public eye? Who has been promoted to the second highest ranking executive, the Chief Operating Officer (COO)? Who is trusted to speak about delicate issues? Who has been tasked with developing a brand new product? 

The answer to all these questions is Apple's COO Jeff Williams.

More and more, Mr. Williams is taking the stage at Apple keynote events. He is being tested and honed. According to his bio, linked above:

Jeff played a key role in Apple’s entry into the mobile phone market with the launch of iPhone, and since 2010 has led worldwide operations for all products. In 2013, he began leading the Apple Watch project.

At Apple's special Event in March, 2015, Mr. Williams received accolades for his presentation on Research Kit. He has continued to be part of the presentation team. Recently, in an interview, Mr. Williams spoke out about the democratization of medicine and human rights. These are delicate corporate issues that only the most trusted executive is tasked with speaking about.

Under intense scrutiny from Walt Mossberg at recode on the product in his charge, the Apple Watch, Mr. Williams handled the interview with tact and grace.

The Succession Plan

From all outward signs, Tim Cook will be a healthy, energetic and splendid CEO for many years to come. However, if I were to guess who would be Number One on the official succession plan, in the event of some dire happening, my vote, for all the reasons above would be Mr. Jeff Williams.

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Tim Cook will be a healthy, energetic and splendid CEO for many years to come

Not according to Trip “Still Wrong” Chowdry.


Angela Ahrendts, was brought on to take over eventually.


JustCausesaid: “Angela Ahrendts, was brought on to take over eventually”

If Marketing were ever allowed to take the helm of Apple, Apple I’m sure would soon become as hopelessly disabled as iTunes has been for the last two or three years (i.e.- ever since Marketing took over the running of iTunes).


@BurmaYank.  You really think that marketing is all that Miss Ahrendts is all about?


@aardman - I don’t know of any reason to think of her as a “product person” in any significant way.  I grant that Tim Cook is also not a “product person”, But my impression is that he’s probably a lot more of one than she is. In any event,  I think Apple needs a “product person” quarterbacking the company as much as possible, so I doubt she would likely be capable of providing enough of that direction.

Lee Dronick

If, Heaven Forbid, Tim Cook Were Hit by a Bus, Who Would Be His Successor?

If, Heaven Forbid, Tim Cook Were Hit by a a Driverless Car, Who Would Be His Successor?

There I fixed the headline for you smile


Angela Ahrendts or Jeff Williams, At least at the moment.

But Both would have to be working along side Johny Ive. I think title in Apple is a little vague in a sense that Steve Jobs isn’t really a traditional CEO in most if not all big companies. As SJ once mentioned he retain that title only to have absolute control.

I also remember SJ set up the company so Johny would have absolute power on the products should he choose to exercise it, more so then even the CEO. That would means saying no to a lot of things.

These isn’t likely to change. So in essence I am much more worried for
If, Heaven Forbid, Johny Ive Were Hit by a a Driverless Car, Who Would Be His Successor?




From Fortune:

“A historical lack of focus had left Burberry vulnerable to losing the lead in its category to newcomers. Ahrendts began a campaign to align the company around the iconic trench coat that had made Burberry famous. Over the next six years, it took factory closures, layoffs, leadership shake-ups, and a re-invention of the brand to make this happen.”

Sounds like product person talk to me.

There’s also this:

“It took not just Ahrendts, but all of Burberry to make this turnaround happen. She painted a clear picture of the opportunity for the company. She ensured everyone understood the vision. Then, she engaged the organization in helping to accomplish it. This is very unusual. Ask the sales clerk at many large clothing retailers today what his or her employer’s long-term vision is and you’ll most likely be met with silence – this is one reason why those companies are failing.”

Sounds very Apple-y.

I’ll go back to that old adage that I just made up:  a great marketing person has to be a great product person.

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