Steve Jobs and Tim Cook

I just finished the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. Overall, I found it interesting, but was disappointed with the depth of the coverage of Steve’s second term at Apple.

A few quotes from the book that I found interesting…

Walter Isaacson talking about Steve Jobs feelings on John Sculley (page 299)

For Jobs, the problem was that Sculley never became a product person. He didn’t make the effort, or show the capacity, to understand the fine points of what they were making. […] He wasn’t naturally passionate about products, which was among the most damning sins that Jobs could imagine.

Steve Jobs on Tim Cook (pages 651-652)

… After adding a bit more praise, [Jobs] quietly added a reservation, one that was serious but rarely spoken: “But Tim’s not a product person, per se.”

Walter Isaacson on plans for Steve Jobs’ succession at Apple (page 774)

[Jobs] had often discussed with the board, in executive session, his thoughts about who could take over if anything happened to him, presenting both short-term and longer-term combinations of options. But there was no doubt that, in this current situation, Tim Cook would again take charge of day-to-day operations.

A Possible Analysis

If you combine the first two quotes from the book (which were from 25 years apart), it seems as though Steve might have the same complaints about Tim Cook as he did about John Sculley.

Add in the third quote from the book and you wonder whether Tim Cook is just Steve’s short-term answer to his replacement.

Apple did give Tim Cook a $5 million bonus and a stock grant of 75,000. He was also granted 1 million shares, of which half vest in 2016 and the rest in 2021, assuming he is still an Apple employee at that time. If Tim Cook is not the answer for Apple, it seems as though a decision would be made before August of 2016, when 500,000 shares vest for him.

What Do I Think?

With all that being said, I do think that Tim Cook has been invaluable to Apple over the years and is a big part of Apple’s current profitability. He definitely understands Apple’s reason for success:

We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products, and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admin when we’re wrong and the courage to change. And I think, regardless of who is in what job, those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.

Tim Cook is not like John Sculley.

To me, the question is who is the ultimate arbiter of excellence at Apple? Who can make the decision to scrap products that other companies would launch as Steve Jobs did? Who will provide the game-changing vision that Steve did?