The rise of Apple CEO Tim Cook, the most powerful business leader in the world

On August 24th, 2011, Tim Cook took the job as CEO of Apple, leaving many wondering if he could fill the massive void left by his friend and mentor, Steve Jobs.

Today, five years later to the day, Apple is the most valuable company in the world, and products like the iPhone continue to rule the market, leaving Cook looking pretty good.

But when he was first announced for the role, he was a big question mark. He’s a quiet guy who had long stayed in the background at Apple, while Jobs did the big product releases and the press tours.

What a lot of people don’t know is that Apple would never have gotten where it is without Cook’s help early on in Jobs’ reign — if not for Cook’s expertise and willingness to do what needed to be done, Apple would have been sunk.

Here’s how Tim Cook rose through the ranks, became a major leader in the reinvention of Apple, and ended up at the helm of the most-watched company in the world.

Timothy Donald Cook was born in Mobile, Alabama, on November 1, 1960. He grew up in nearby Robertsdale, where he went to high school.

His father, Donald Cook, was a shipyard worker. His mother, Geraldine Cook, worked at a pharmacy.

In 1982, Cook graduated from Alabama's Auburn University with a degree in industrial engineering.

Auburn University

In 1982, right out of Auburn, Cook joined IBM in its still new PC division -- before Microsoft Windows was even a thing. He'd rise to become the director of North American fulfillment.

This is a Photoshop from a clever Twitter user.

In 1996, Cook was misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis, something he says made him view the world in a different way. Since then, he's been a big contributor to charity, and even does bike races for good causes.


It turns out the diagnosis was just because he'd been lugging around too much baggage -- literally.

So Jobs approached Cook, identifying him as a strong prospect for his new Apple. Cook signed on to Apple in an initial role as the SVP of worldwide operations.


Cook would later describe their meeting:

Any purely rational consideration of cost and benefits lined up in Compaq's favour, and the people who knew me best advised me to stay at Compaq ... On that day in early 1998 I listened to my intuition, not the left side of my brain or for that matter even the people who knew me best ... no more than five minutes into my initial interview with Steve, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind and join Apple. My intuition already knew that joining Apple was a once in a lifetime opportunity to work for the creative genius, and to be on the executive team that could resurrect a great American company.

It must have been a difficult decision for Jobs. In 1997, Apple was an industry laughingstock: Michael Dell, one of Microsoft's closest partners, once said that if he were in Jobs' shoes, 'I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.'

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Cook's prescience meant that when competitors sought to build their own phones and tablets, they had to compete for what little factory capacity and components Apple had left behind.

As his influence grew, Cook became known within the company for his no-mercy, relentless questioning style, his willingness to hold hours-long meetings until they got something right, and his propensity for sending emails at all hours and expecting answers.

Getty Images/David Paul Morris

In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, the device that would change everything.

As COO, Cook made more appearances at public events, getting him out in front of executives, customers, partners, and investors.

Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

In 2009, Tim Cook was named interim CEO while Steve Jobs was on leave to manage his declining health. Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, and it was starting to take its toll.

Getty Images/Apple

When Jobs died in October 2011, Cook had the flags of the Apple campus flown at half staff in his memory.

Wikimedia Commons

Cook had some big shoes to fill. The iPhone, especially, is an internationally beloved product, and Jobs is held up as one of the greatest CEOs in history. There was a lot of uncertainty over whether or not Apple could keep the momentum going under Cook.

Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian

Through all of this, Cook kept, and continues to keep, his personal life under wraps. We know he enjoys hiking, cycling, and fitness, but he doesn't work out at the Apple on-campus gym, and he doesn't share many details about his home life.

Getty Images/Scott Olson

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