It’s officially Tim Cook’s era at Apple as Fortune has named the Apple CEO the ‘World’s Greatest Leader’. After winning the coveted tittle, Cook gave an interview to Fortune in which he reflected on a post-Jobs era and shared interesting tidbits on what it’s like to cope with the pressure that comes with leading such a huge company as Apple.
For starters, he had to learn to ignore his critics. “I’m not running for office,” Cook said in an in-depth Fortune profile.
“I don’t need your vote. I have to feel myself doing what’s right,” Cook continued. “If I’m the arbiter of that instead of letting the guy on TV be that or someone who doesn’t know me at all, then I think that’s a much better way to live.”
“I have thick skin,” he says, “but it got thicker.”
What I learned after Steve passed away, what I had known only at a theoretical level, an academic level maybe, was that he was an incredible heat shield for us, his executive team. None of us probably appreciated that enough because it’s not something we were fixated on.
We were fixated on our products and running the business. But he really took any kind of spears that were thrown. He took the praise as well. But to be honest, the intensity was more than I would ever have expected.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s Senior Vice President for Internet Software and Services, told Fortune that Cook “never tried to be Steve.”
While Apple’s mercurial co-founder and late CEO got involved “at the pixel level”, Cook has let “us do our thing”.
“He’s aware and involved at the high end, and he gets involved as needed,” said Cue.
Cook himself acknowledges the difference between agonizing over the minutiae as an engineer and looking at the big picture at the CEO level. As CEO, one needs to be able to operate “on shorter cycles, less data points, less knowledge, less facts,” he said.
As an engineer, “you want to analyze things a lot.”
“But if you believe that the most important data points are people, then you have to make conclusions in relatively short order,” said Cook. “Because you want to push the people who are doing great. And you want to either develop the people who are not or, in a worst case, they need to be somewhere else.”
Addressing his vocal critics from the investment community, Cook said that Apple prefers investors who’re in it for the long haul.
“If you’re a short-term investor, obviously you’ve got the right to buy the stock and trade it the way you want,” he says. “It’s your decision. But I want everybody to know that’s not how we run the company.”
Apple’s current retail boss and former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts bought into Cook’s vision after meeting him privately outside of Apple’s headquarters:
“The first time I sat down with him, I walked away thinking wow, that’s a man of peace,” she says. “I just absolutely loved his integrity, his values. Nothing anybody can write, say, or do is going to take him off of always doing the right thing. Not just for Apple, but for Apple’s people, for communities, for countries. The world needs more leaders like Tim.”
Of Ahrendts herself, Cook said:
She’s a perfect culture fit. Within a week, it felt like she’d been there a year. And now it feels like she’s been there multiple years. When you start to finish each other’s sentences, this is a good thing.
And if you’ve noticed that Apple is increasingly spotlighting more and more of its executives at public media events and in in-house made promotional videos, that too is part of a larger strategy.
“My objective is to raise the public profile of several of the folks on the executive team, and others as well because I think that’s good for Apple at the end of the day,” he said.
Cook decided to come out as gay “quite some time ago”:
To be honest, if I would not have come to the conclusion that it would likely help other people, I would have never done it. There’s no joy in me putting my life in view.
Referencing the often-cited line that “to whom much is given, much is required,” Cook says, “I’ve certainly been given a lot.”
Following the death of Steve Jobs three-and-a-half years ago, Cook had a lot to prove to nervous investors, worried fans and the general public, especially after Samsung’s marketing campaign painted Apple as a deeply troubled company that lost its focus and couldn’t innovate without its charismatic co-founder.
Between then and now, Tim Cook oversaw the wildly successful release of larger-screened iPhone and Apple Pay while orchestrating development of the Apple Watch, Apple’s first true post-Jobs era product.
He also announced publicly that he is gay, became the cheerleader for workplace equality, saw the Apple stock reach all-time highs and led Apple to double-down on clean energy and more, all the while making sure that existing products are refreshed on a regular basis and the corporate machine well oiled.
Not that any of this is going to stop Apple doomsayers dead in their track, but it’s remarkable what a difference a few years make.
The whole profile is a fascinating read and I urge you to save it to your weekend reading list if you don’t have the time to enjoy it now.
Photograph top of post credited to Joe Pugliese.