Steve Jobs Hand-picked Tim Cook For a Very Good Reason

| Particle Debris

Starting up Apple and then returning later to save the company is a very different kind of activity—and requires different skills—than navigating a $230 billion company into mid-life maturity. Steve Jobs knew that when he hand-picked Tim Cook to succeed him. Some observers still don't.

Ken Segall knows a lot about Apple. He worked with Steve Jobs in the past doing marketing, branding and even product naming. He's written a book, Think Simple, that describes the years when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was obsessed with product simplicity.

Now, Mr. Segall has written an insightful article about Apple's current affair with simplicity. "How Apple lost its way: Steve Jobs’ love of simplicity is gone." That's the lead. The subtitle adds: "[Apple's] incredible growth was rooted in his love of simplicity – but things have changed."

Indeed, things have changed a lot.

Today, because Apple is a much larger company with over $233 billion in annual revenue compared to when Steve Jobs returned to Apple (about $7 billion in revenue), many observers are unsettled by the scope of Apple as a company. The number of different products and services seems so overwhelming that the basic human desire for technical simplicity, in turn, casts doubt on Tim Cook's leadership. That's a stretch, but people do it anyway. An irrational longing for the past colors the estimation of Tim Cook for some observers.

Is simplicity in a company's offerings an intrinsic value? Or was it, in the case of Apple in 1997, simply a recipe for disaster recovery?

Management Styles

I worked for a large aerospace company for many years. One of the things that I saw was the life-cycle of an advanced technology program. In the early days, the company would place a firebrand in charge. Someone who could launch a project, attract the right talent, put the fear of God into everyone, obtain the funding and convince the government that we were on the right path. It's an outrageous, often simplistic, political approach.

But a leaders like that cannot suffer the steady-state work of research and development. They don't have the right temperament. They grow listless and, worse, ruin the morale of the engineers with too much meddling and inability to cope with nuance and complexities. The program now needs a steady hand at the wheel.

In the mature phase, a more cerebral program leader is brought in. That's someone who understands engineers and scientists and has their trust. His job is to keep them inspired and happy, shield them, get results, and maintain confident, low-key politics with the government. Explain the complexities of breakthrough engineering. No more agitation and drama.

Never Goin' Back Again

This is exactly what happened with Apple. As Mr. Jobs realized that he'd set the ship right and poised it for real growth, he hand-picked a man who he knew would be steady hand at the wheel. Tim Cook.

A company that is large and has hungry competitors at every turn does things differently than a company that's small and fighting for its life. Mr. Segall notes:

Markets mature. A bigger audience has more diverse needs. If Apple were to ignore those needs, they would only force customers to go elsewhere. (As they did for several years by not making a big-screen iPhone.)

On the other hand, a large and diverse Apple has occasional pockets of failure that could not have endured during the reign of Steve Jobs. Mr. Segall notes:

Critics have had a field day complaining about the growing complexity of Apple software. Apple Music [iTunes] has been attacked mercilessly, and deservedly so. I personally find parts of it to be bewildering.

Apple’s ability to make software solid and simple has come under attack from a number of normally pro-Apple sites. Not that it excuses Apple, but many forget that such lapses also happened on Steve’s watch. He famously went ballistic over the flawed launch of Apple’s early cloud effort called MobileMe.

To put things in proper perspective is important. A small company has few challenges. Products can be simple, but so is their market and opportunities. Apple, as it grows, is carrying legendary values into everything it does. No other company can design products that appeal to so many different people. To complain that they aren't always absolutely perfect is to deny what Apple is today and its prospects for the future. Mr. Segall concludes:

There is serious work to be done in rebuilding the perception of simplicity that helped Apple become the world’s most valuable company. Existing problems need fixing, as do the internal processes that have allowed complicated products to make it into the hands of customers.

That said, it’s important to put Apple’s issues in context. Despite its current challenges – and its lapses – I don’t see any other technology creating a simple experience as well as Apple.

We live in a complicated world, and the companies that deliver simplicity are the ones who win in the end.

A computer that produces an incorrect result once in a 1,000,000 computations is flawed and must be discarded. But a company, manned by human beings, will occasionally stumble. A steady, respected hand at the helm is required, lest the morale and engineering crumble right before our eyes.

There is no going back.

Next page: The Tech News Debris for the Week of May 23rd. The rise of the AI agents starts now.

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The strength of Tim Cook that is championed as what is needed for a mature Apple doesn’t instill me with a great deal of confidence for future growth and innovation. Is Apple doomed to become the next IBM, Microsoft of companies grown obese on past innovations. Is there no one on the horizon with the vision and nerve to inspire a new wave of products that disrupt markets and shake other companies out of their narrow vision?

This is not the management style needed to disrupt the automotive or robotic markets. It sounds more like a me too style for Apple.


The only AI I’m interested in is one that will help me make games.  Viv is the first one that sounds close.


I like Timmy. And I agree with skipaq.  Everything changes, but weep not for Apple as they still do quite well despite getting myopic with the iOS success thus ignoring VR and AI and IOT and so forth.
Tim’s okay though, I think it’s time to turn up the heat on Jonny Ive.


I agree. TC is doing ok. I’m not sure he’s the most inspiring leader in the Fortune 500, but overall he’s doing a good Journeyman job in the position.

Jony Ive though is another story. His best days and work are behind him. I just don’t see great things coming from his desk any more. In addition without SJ to reign him in his fixation on thin and flat will lead Apple to put out a piece of card stock with the words MacBook Pro printed on it. It’s time for some new blood in the design office.


geoduck, I suspect your opinion will change when we see Apple Car, which I’m sure Jony will have a hand in. Not seeing great things come across his desk may be a sign he is focused on designing bigger and better things!!


This article reminds me of the failed ‘Cookie’ predictions of yesteryear. Where are you, Brad? I miss our debates!! Come back to TMO as yourself and not CB!!


Geoduck, your comments about the card stock MBPro made my day (and made me chortle). You CAN be too thin. Style should never come at the expense of substance.

I don’t think Apple could have scaled its growth (as well as it did) without TC. Remarkable growth requires remarkable skills, and TC exemplifies those. I think SJ predicted Apple’s growth quite well and knew TC was the perfect person for the required logistics and inventory control.


Not sure I agree with the ‘can be too thin’ talk. If the functionally and strength is there, why not have it card stock thin? Make my iPhone and MacBook Pro so I can roll them up and stick then in my pocket!!


There is a huge difference between managing and inspiring. Steve certainly needed and used Tim’s noted skills to manage a rapidly growing supply chain. Steve’s genius was in inspiring and demanding the best from Tim, Jony and many others. They all delivered some amazing products under his leadership. I am not sure this type of leadership has been demonstrated under Tim’s tenure thus far.

He is doing a great job managing Apple’s legacy and in some ways improved the company structurally. Apple is a primarily a hardware company and needs a vision for future products. That requires a product driven person with a vision for the future at or near the top.

I would not count Jony Ive out; but a more public posture for him would give me a more secure feeling for the future.


RMG - fun thoughts, but for me if it’s too thin to find beside the brick-like USB-C hub that will be required then it’s too thin for me. YMMV, and rightly so.
I love my MBAir but I cannot imagine any less ports than it currently has. At three pounds and .5” thick it is, for me, neither overweight nor oversized.

Skipaq - points taken and noted - and appreciated.


And why do you need a USB-C hub? Over time, with improved methods of wireless connecting between all devices and wireless charging, there will be little reason to plug anything in. If everything just talked to each other seamlessly and charging becomes a non issue (devices charge wirelessly within X feet of a charging ‘station’) then bring on the thinness, right?


RMG - Well, for me, I need ports for legacy devices, for ultimate security, for seamless communication and battery life. Wireless for me is a convenience in many instances. When my Time Capsule backup became corrupted and needed to be rebuilt, gigabit ethernet completed the task in much less time and with much less overhead than wireless could or would have. Less time equals less battery drain equals longer battery life. Considering how difficult it has become to replace a battery that’s a valid issue for me. Again, YMMV.
Also, while I’m not promoting hubs and do not currently feel the need for one, for the above reasons they could be a necessity when devices have only one port.

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