Tim Cook, Steve Jobs’ Alter-Ego?

Note: I like to listen and learn from your opinions. If you like to share your view with me, then don’t hesitate to leave a comment on this and all other articles. I welcome any constructive discussions.

One of the most discussed topics last week is Steve Jobs’ resignation as Apple’s CEO. I like to put forward my thoughts on it. Many reports and TV shows covered this story. Almost everybody agreed that Tim Cook is a good alternative to Steve Jobs. When I read a little bit about Tim Cook, I could not come to the same conclusion immediately. If I was asked my response on this would be,  “we don’t have enough information to say either way”. I may sound strange by saying so, but let’s look into why I have to say that way.

First of all let me acknowledge Jobs’ achievements. I am trying to establish Jobs’ personality so that the comparison between Jobs and Cook would be easier. I don’t go into the history a lot but will briefly touch a few important milestones in Jobs’ life. As we all know Steve Jobs is a Co-founder of Apple. Who is the other co-founder(s) then? That’s Steve Wozniak. He is the design and the electronics guy behind early days of Apple. Apple’s first computer in the market was Apple-I. It was designed by Wozniak and was sold by Jobs. Then it was a good success and laid the path to its next generation computer Apple-II. Apple-II was a huge success. It redefined the computer world and over night Apple and Jobs became the hot news in Tech world. Jobs was the face of the company and he was believed to be a whiz-kid by most of the tech people.

After the success of Apple-II, company did not have a success for a long time during which it had to rely on Apple-II’s revenue for survival. Meanwhile, Jobs started working on a project called Lisa. This was supposed to be a high-end computer with much better configuration than the previous models. For some reasons Jobs was forced to leave the Lisa project which is taken over by others in the company. As a replacement Jobs was given another project (which was completely his brainchild) called Macintosh. Despite the hype it created, Mac was NOT an instant success. Eventually it did good. On the other hand, Jobs was forced to leave Apple.

After leaving Apple, Jobs started another company called NeXT which is acquired by Apple after his return to it. NeXT was not a successful venture, if not a failed one. While Jobs was with NeXT, he happened to buy Pixar Studios for $10M (some say it was only for $5 M). Jobs’ main idea behind buying PIxar was to manufacture Computers for Imaging purposes. His idea behind it was always to sell computers that can be used with Medical Systems etc. Jobs never considered Pixar to be an animation studio though he let some of its resources to be spent on animation. It was the case at least until Toy Story got released. Eventually Pixar was proved to be one of the best animation studios and was bought by Disney for $ 7.4 billion. With this deal, Jobs has become a board member and the biggest investor of Disney.

We all know what happened with Apple after Jobs’ return. He turned the company which was on the brink of bankruptcy to one of the most successful companies in American history ( I am sure Microsoft must be regretting its decision to lend a helping hand of $150M to Apple at that time). Today it’s the largest tech company in the world. By looking at Apple’s history everyone agrees that Steve Jobs is one of the best CEO’s that world ever had.

On the other hand, Tim Cook worked at some of the best computer manufactures such as IBM and Compaq. At both Compaq and Apple he was mostly responsible to the supply chain management. He doesn’t have much experience as a CEO except for a couple of months in 2004 in Jobs’ absence and then seven months in this year. That means mostly he is an operations person and yet to be proved as a CEO.

I like to recollect one of the most common questions in management world. What is the difference between a Leader and a Manager? Just think of it for a while before you continue to read on. Leader is a person who is mostly responsible to set the future course of the company. He has to motivate the employees, define the vision of the company and see how and where the company would be in the years to come. He is also responsible to make the company reach its vision in the given period of time. On the other hand, a manager is a person who takes care of the day-to-day operations. He might define the processes that would facilitate the day to day activities. He makes sure products/services/solutions are delivered on time. The same person can be a good leader as well as a manager. But there is no guarantee that a good manager makes a good leader and vice versa. That’s why most of the companies have two different designations CEO (Chief Executive Officer) and COO (Chief Operating Officer). What’s the difference between a CEO and a COO? Yes, COO reports to CEO and CEO directly reports to the Board of Directors. But that’s not what I am trying to highlight here. CEO is mainly responsible to  define the future course of the company whereas COO is responsible to make sure the operations are performed without any hiccups.

So far Tim Cook was more of an operations person than of a leader. No doubt he did an excellent job in removing all the chaos in Apple’s supply chain. He outsourced all the manufacturing to China and saved a lot of money to Apple while improving the quality of its products. His experience as a CEO is not known yet. Jobs as the CEO and Cook as the COO proved to be one of the best teams (just as Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Ray Lane did). Jobs always had a vision to the company. He is believed to be the world’s best consumer. He had an aesthetic touch to all of his thoughts. Aesthetics always played a crucial role in Apple’s products. If you ask any Apple customer why they like Apple products, the most frequently given answer would be “they look cool”. Apart from coolness, Apple products are simple to use. All this came into Apple’s products only because of Jobs. I am not saying Jobs himself designed all these products. But he has the taste of picking up the best of the designs/features to provide. He would never be satisfied with anything inferior. Tim Cook has declared that he would continue to give the same importance to designs and designers. However, what he also needs is the ability to pick the best one out of 10s of options provided to him. This quality cannot be acquired with experience. It has to be possessed by birth.

In the last seven months, since Steve Jobs announced his leave of absence, Tim Cook has been working as Apple’s CEO. However, in these seven months, I didn’t see any major decisions that can change the company’s path. It’s not very often you see the companies changing or redefining their strategies. So I would say we need to wait on this and see how Tim Cook will do when the time comes to define the company’s vision. With Apple’s current product line any operations person can lead the company for the next couple of years. But we need to see how Tim Cook is going to fare at his job when the time comes. It’s a skill to read the pulse of the consumers. Based on their pulse, products have to be made. It’s what Steve Jobs excelled. Even he was not correct all the time. He had some misfires too. For example, his purpose behind buying Pixar was to sell Image Computers. But how many of us know about Pixar Image Computers? His bet did not work in this scenario. However, Pixar was successful for other reasons which he too surprised about.

Generally when founders of the companies leave and the second generation leaders come in, it’s not easy to share the same vision and view as the founders did. We have at least a couple of cases in front of us to prove it. Where is Microsoft’s growth since Bill Gates gave up the reigns? What happened to Dell in the absence of Michael Dell? What went wrong with Apple between Steve Jobs’ exit and reentry into Apple? On the other hand there are successful stories too when the next generation leadership replaced the founders. Companies like HP and IBM did well even when the next generation took over.

It’s possible that Apple can stand in the same league as HP and IBM does. However, Steve Jobs cannot be replaced. There is no second Steve Jobs and there is no another Bill Gates. Every person is different with his/her own strengths and weaknesses. As Michael Porter, the famous Strategist once said, the leader’s personal values have to be taken into consideration while defining the future course of a company (in defining the feasible strategy of the company). All we need to do now is, just wait and see how Tim Cook’s strengths and weaknesses can off-set Steve Jobs absence.

PS: I hope iPhone 5 release is NOT delayed by Steve Jobs’ absence. Generally new models of iPhone release in June. This time it is NOT out yet. Hmmm…..it’s already end of August, I suppose. Are we seeing Jobs’ effect already 😉 ?