Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level
April 16, 2019
Leander Kahney's new book "tells the inspiring story of how one man attempted to replace someone irreplaceable, and—through strong, humane leadership, supply chain savvy, and a commitment to his values—succeeded more than anyone had thought possible."
Tim Cook is, undeniably, a more low-key leader of Apple than the late Steve Jobs, whose name and public persona were practically synonymous with the Apple brand.
If there is genius in Tim Cook's approach, as the subtitle to Apple watcher Leander Kahney's new book suggests, it is a quieter genius, more even and more private, more focused on production and supply chains than image and ego. Yet, as you'll learn in the excerpt below, from the Introduction to Kahney's Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level, it has been no less successful than Jobs' approach to the job.
When Tim Cook took over as CEO of Apple in 2011, he had big shoes to fill. One of the largest, most innovative companies in the world had just lost its visionary founder. Steve Jobs and the company he founded were beyond iconic, and with him gone, pundits predicted disaster. With rising competition from Android, and uncertainty about future products, Cook had everything to lose by stepping into the driver’s seat.
But the critics were wrong. Fast forward eight years, and under Cook’s leadership, Apple has been absolutely killing it. Since Jobs died, Apple reached the ultimate milestone, becoming the world’s first trillion-dollar company, making it the most valuable corporation in the world. Its stock has nearly tripled. Its cash reserves have more than quadrupled since 2010, to a record $267.2 billion—despite its spending nearly $220 billion in stock buybacks and dividends. For perspective, the U.S. government only has $271 billion cash on hand.
To get an idea of just how enormous Apple is during Tim Cook’s CEO tenure, consider that the company made $88.3 billion in revenue and $20 billion in profits in Q1 of 2018, as I’m writing this book. By comparison, Facebook, with more than 2.2 billion active users, made just $40.6 billion over all of 2017. Not to mention that in just those three months, Apple made almost as much as its rival Microsoft—once the biggest company in tech—during the entire year of 2017, at $90 billion.
Cook’s Apple is crushing the competition in almost every way:
- The iPhone is the single most successful product of all time. It’s a juggernaut. Apple has sold more than 1.2 billion iPhones in the ten years since it was introduced—four of those years thanks to Jobs’s leadership, then the rest under Cook. Cumulative sales are approaching $1 trillion in revenue alone. While Android may ship more handsets, Apple is by far the revenue leader and taking 80 percent of all the profit in the mobile industry. While Apple sells premium handsets with 30 - 40 percent profit margins, the rest of the mobile industry fights for the low end of the market, where margins are razor thin. And with the iPhone X and its offspring, Apple’s market share continues to grow. The rest of the industry is left to fight over smaller and smaller scraps of profit.
- Apple’s service business is also growing astronomically. Responsible for $9.1 billion in Q2 2018, it is Apple’s second biggest segment by revenue and is almost as big as the satellite TV company Dish Networks. If it were to stand alone, services would be a Fortune 500 company. Some pundits see its services business, built on sales of music, apps, and digital subscriptions, growing to $50 billion by 2020, which could make it bigger than Mac and iPad combined—and bigger than even Disney or Microsoft.
- Apple is also succeeding in computers. Although computers play second fiddle to the iPhone, Apple has recently been growing its PC market share for the first time in decades—and is the only company doing so. PC sales are down 26 percent overall from their peak in 2011. Thanks to tablets and smartphones, the PC market seemed unlikely ever to recover. But since Cook took over, Apple has been steadily growing its slice of the market, from 5 percent in 2011 to about 7 percent today. That may seem like modest gains, but like with the iPhone, Apple is only competing at the high end of the market.
- Apple blew open a whole new industry with wearables. Launched in April 2015, the Apple Watch is the first major product of the Tim Cook era that had no input from Steve Jobs. It is a sleeper hit, with more than forty million Apple Watch wearers and sales up 50 percent quarter over quarter. Apple’s watch business is already bigger than Rolex. Apple’s AirPods are another hit; the company is expected to sell fifty million-plus AirPods and Beats headphones in 2018. With the new HomePod speaker, Apple’s smart audio business could exceed $10 billion annually.
And perhaps the best is yet to come. Behind the scenes, Apple is rumored to be building a robot car, which, if successful, threatens to disrupt the $2 trillion global automotive industry the same way Apple crushed the mobile phone industry. GM and Ford may end up like Nokia and Motorola.
Defying expectations, Apple is enjoying unprecedented levels of success under Tim Cook’s leadership, and looks to have a bright future. Despite fears that there would be a mass exodus of talent after Jobs’s death and that the company would be gutted as key players left for rivals, Cook has largely held together the management team he inherited from Jobs, supplementing it with clever, high-profile hires of his own. Not only has he steered Apple through a time of uncertainty following Jobs’s death, and grown it beyond belief, but he’s also led a cultural revolution within the company. Under Cook, Apple isn’t as cutthroat and abrasive as it was before—without undoing the company’s core products or increasing profits. While Jobs often set teams against each other—and even individual executives—Cook has favored a more harmonious approach, letting go of a few executives who created conflict and drama while increasing cross-collaboration between previously heavily siloed teams.
Cook believes strongly that companies should have a good strategy coupled with good values. In late 2017, his six core values for running Apple were quietly published in an obscure financial statement, and subsequently were given their own subsections on Apple’s website. Though they haven’t been publicly identified by Cook or the company in any formal capacity, looking at Cook’s leadership style over the last eight years, these six values shed light on him as a leader and provide the foundation for everything he has done at Apple:
- Accessibility: Apple believes accessibility is a fundamental human right and technology should be accessible to everyone.
- Education: Apple believes education is a fundamental human right and a quality education should be available to all.
- Environment: Apple drives environmental responsibility in product design and manufacturing.
- Inclusion and diversity: Apple believes diverse teams make innovation possible.
- Privacy and security: Apple believes privacy is a fundamental human right. Every Apple product is designed from the ground up to protect your privacy and security.
- Supplier responsibility: Apple educates and empowers the people in its supply chain, and helps preserve the environment’s most precious resources.
As I wrote this book, it became clear how these core values are the bedrock of Cook’s leadership at Apple. You’ll read how he first unearthed and then embedded them in the company, from the first day he joined Apple to the present day. We’ll explore how he developed these values throughout his life and how they came to underpin the heart and soul of the culture at Apple, by investigating the circumstances with which Cook inherited the top job and just how high the stakes were, and then journeying back to his childhood, early career, and his time at Apple.
As the company settles into its recently completed headquarters, a futuristic spaceship that’s among the biggest HQs in Silicon Valley, Apple is poised for its third great act, when it brings computing to previously unconquered industries—medicine, health, fitness, automotive, and the smart home, among others. Cook’s tenure at Apple is already the stuff of business legend, and it’s high time his contributions to Apple, and the world, are aptly celebrated. After all, he has led Apple to become the world’s first trillion-dollar company. What follows is the story of Tim Cook, the quiet genius leading Apple to heady heights.
Excerpted from Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level by Leander Kahney,
to be published on April 16th by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.
Copyright © 2019 by Leander Kahney.
All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leander Kahney, the bestselling author of Inside Steve’s Brain, Jony Ive, and Cult of Mac, has covered Apple for more than a dozen years. He is the former news editor of Wired.com, and now the editor of CultofMac.com.