It’s no real surprise that Tim Cook has been tapped to serve as Apple’s CEO following Steve Jobs’ resignation to become Chairman. Cook has spent 30 years distinguishing himself in the industry, spending the first half with IBM and Compaq and the second, more than 14 years, as Jobs’ right hand.
He joined Apple’s operations team as a senior VP and quickly advanced to worldwide head of sales, chief operating officer and head of the Macintosh division. Finally, Cook has served either as official acting CEO or effective head of the company during Jobs’ medical leaves of absence three times since 2004.
At Quora, TechCrunch’s MG Siegler argues that between these three terms, Cook has already proven that he’s ready:
In each instance, not only has Apple survived, they’ve thrived. That’s fairly remarkable when you think about it. Each time, pundits have more or less said it was the end of Apple, and each time Apple ended up ahead of where they were when Jobs left. It was trial by fire, and Cook passed with flying colors.
But Cook hasn’t just been a company caretaker during Apple’s good years. He’s also a product, sourcing and supply-chain visionary. Cook arguably did as much as anyone to turn Apple around after its nearly disastrous fall in the mid-1990s.
In a 2004 interview with Businessweek, Jobs downplayed his own role in Apple’s success, calling himself “chief janitor,” and singling out Cook for praise (emphasis added):
Not everyone knows it, but three months after I came back to Apple, my chief operating guy quit. I couldn’t find anyone internally or elsewhere that knew as much as he did, or as I did. So I did that job for nine months before I found someone I saw eye-to-eye with, and that was Tim Cook. And he has been here ever since.
Of course, I didn’t tell anyone because I already had two jobs [CEO of Apple and
of movie maker Pixar Animation Studios] and didn’t want people to worry about whether I could handle three [jobs]. But after Tim came on board, we basically reinvented the logistics of the PC business. We’ve been doing better than Dell [in terms of some metrics such as inventory] for five years now!
Apple’s profits depend on these efficiencies as much as great sales or reviews: Every product or part stuck in a warehouse is a part that costs money instead of making it. It was Apple’s inability to get this part of the business right in the mid-1990s that hurt it as much as product stagnation and a losing war of attrition with Microsoft.
Jobs’ and Cook’s post-1997 mantra, “slash inventory, shut warehouses, run manufacturing close to the bone” became a path back to profit. Along with other innovators like Dell, Apple established a new high bar for the electronics industry:
Inventory, Cook has said, is “fundamentally evil,” and he has been known to observe that it declines in value by 1% to 2% a week in normal times, faster in tough times like the present.
“You kind of want to manage it like you’re in the dairy business,” he has said. “If it gets past its freshness date, you have a problem.” This logistical discipline has given Apple inventory management comparable with Dell’s, then as now the gold standard for computer-manufacturing efficiency.
We know what you’re thinking: Why dwell on the backroom aspects of such a sexy company? Because that seemingly dull stuff is as important to Apple’s success as the gorgeous designs and ultracool marketing.