In April of 2013, the New York Times wrote a story with the headline, “Why Tim Cook Is Like Steve Ballmer”.
At the time, Apple’s stock was in a rut, sinking to a low point in Cook’s tenure as CEO.
On a micro level, the story was that Apple could continue to grow its earnings and profits, but the stock might still slump, just like it did for Ballmer.
On a macro level, comparing Cook to Ballmer is a dig. Ballmer’s Microsoft went from being the biggest technology company in the world to a company that was behind Apple and Google as measured in market cap. It also fell behind them in terms of innovation.
To compare Cook to Ballmer is to say that Apple was going to go from being a brilliant leading technology company to an also ran.
Today, few people would dare make this comparison. The stock has rebounded and is approaching its all time highs. And, more importantly, Apple is showing that it can innovate and execute at a high level.
John Gruber of Daring Fireball, a long time, influential writer on Apple, has a great essay on how Cook has made Apple a new, better company.
Cook’s expertise is operational efficiency. He’s know (at times dismissively) as someone that can fine tune the supply chain to deliver Apple’s products to hundreds of millions of people. Gruber argues that Cook is bringing that operational efficiency to Apple, fine tuning the company to deliver better products and better software.
Here is the key bit:
When Cook succeeded Jobs, the question we all asked was more or less binary: Would Apple decline without Steve Jobs? What seems to have gone largely unconsidered is whether Apple would thrive with Cook at the helm, achieving things the company wasn’t able to do under the leadership of the autocratic and mercurial Jobs.
Jobs was a great CEO for leading Apple to become big. But Cook is a great CEO for leading Apple now that it is big, to allow the company to take advantage of its size and success. Matt Drance said it, and so will I:What we saw last week at WWDC 2014 would not have happened under Steve Jobs.
This is not to say Apple is better off without Steve Jobs. But I do think it’s becoming clear that the company, today, might be better off with Tim Cook as CEO. If Jobs were still with us, his ideal role today might be that of an éminence grise, muse and partner to Jony Ive in the design of new products, and of course public presenter extraordinaire. Chairman of the board, with Cook as CEO, running the company much as he actually is today.
It’s still too early to make a definitive call on the Cook era. We’re still waiting for Apple to deliver a brand new product category. It’s supposedly going to be an iWatch in October. At that point, we’ll get the truest sense of Cook’s Apple.
But for now, almost three years into Cook’s run, any comparison to Ballmer seems silly. Cook has transformed Apple into an even stronger company.