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Summary:

Fortune’s cover story on Cook this week sketches a fascinating portrait of how Tim Cook is making his mark on Apple: Wall Street loves him, employees aren’t scared of him, he talks to Washington, and he’s still overseeing great new products, according to people who’ve seen them.

Tim Cook, Apple CEO
photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Credit: Bowen Liu/Apple Inc. via Bloomberg

The biggest challenge for Apple over the next several years will be how it adjusts under the leadership of Tim Cook. We’ve seen bits and pieces of what this new era means for Apple, but Fortune writer Adam Lashinsky has a cover story on Thursday that pulls it all together and is chock-full of fascinating details about how Apple is changing with him at the helm.

We’ve deviated from our usual roundup of must-read Apple coverage to highlight the story by Lashinsky, who wrote a book last year called Inside Apple. Here are the five most interesting details from the story that any Apple watcher should take note of:

  • Wall Street loves Cook. Not only has the stock skyrocketed since Cook took over as permanent CEO in August, but he has given investors their long-awaited dividend, and he actually, like, talks to investors. And they love him for all of those things. Said one Goldman Sachs analyst: “By any quantitative measure, so far his performance is phenomenal.”
  • Cook has embraced corporate types. He’s brought in a lot of MBA-toting new employees to Apple. And it’s not a real surprise, given his background as COO, that he’s emphasizing operational efficiency. But some are starting to wonder if efficiency is becoming more of a priority compared to engineering creativity. One former long-time Apple engineer is quoted as saying, “It looks like it has become a more conservative execution engine rather than a pushing-the-envelope engineering engine.”
  • He’s a communicator. He was recently photographed meeting with Speaker John Boehner in Washington, D.C. But Lashinsky reports that he told several high-ranking politicians that he wanted to be “personally accessible to them.” The same seems to be true of his employees — he’ll randomly sit down to lunch with them at the Cupertino campus’s cafeteria — and his partners — he personally visited a Foxconn plant in the aftermath of the public outcry over working conditions there.
  • He is not scary. Siri isn’t a finished product and has understandably had bugs. That would not have gone over well were Steve Jobs around, notes one employee. And whereas in the Jobs era employees feared him, some Apple employees now seem a little more relaxed, as he tells in one anecdote about an engineer who didn’t feel like he had to rush back to work right after lunch anymore. And the annual retreat for the company’s 100 best performers was actually considered fun this year and not as stressful as it had been under Jobs.
  • He is shepherding the creation of new products that employees like. At the top performers retreat, those in attendance got a look at future products. One veteran executive was “blown away” while others “came away totally comfortable with where the company is headed.”
The main takeway: Cook is doing his own thing, and that means doing things differently than Jobs. The changes he’s instituted clearly make a lot of investors happy and life as an Apple employee sounds a little less terrifying. But it’s still too soon to tell if either of those things will do what many fear: transform Apple into an ordinary company.

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  1. Michael Santoroski Thursday, May 24, 2012

    I hope they don’t let those MBA’s ruin the business.

    1. I don’t have a very good impression of MBAs, either.

  2. gautamonline Thursday, May 24, 2012

    Too many changes, looks like this is the end of Apple.

  3. It’s one thing to run a company. It’s a slightly different thing to run a product development team and a company to build the products. The focus is different, like thinking about being a content or information company.
    What I read here is about running a company, so we still have to see 2-3 years out if the people still can develop products while the company is run as an “investment” company. Being blown away doesn’t seem to mean much now’er days.

  4. I wouldn’t say Tim Cook’s way of running Apple is wrong or right, it’s just different from Jobs’. It will be interesting to see the direction Apple goes in with Cook at the helm. I just hope that they don’t lose their intense drive for innovation.

  5. Goes to show that you can run a company with both innovation and execution without being a megalomaniac tyrant. As Mark Twain said” We should get all the knowledge that is in a thing, but only the knowledge that is actually in it. Lest we be like the cat that jumps on a hot stove. She will never jump on a hot stove again, but nor will she jump on a cold one either.”

    So many people canonize Jobs and try to emulate him without separating the effective parts from the counterproductive parts. The next great leader will be the one who recognizes the differences, utilizes what is effective and improves on what wasn’t.

    1. Hear, hear!

  6. “But it’s still too soon to tell if either of those things will do what many fear: transform Apple into an ordinary company.”

    I’m calling it. Apple is going to be an ordinary company soon. They’ll have bad quarters, because their competitors will not always be so incompetent. The difference is that with Jobs at the helm, Apple would meet its challenges by courting brilliant engineers and coming up with the next big daring idea. Under Cook, when push comes to shove, Apple will succumb to Wall-Street’s conservative instincts and the brand will collapse.

    What did he do with Apple’s war chest? Buy a whole array of awesome startups to blow everyone out of the water with? No, he bought…wait for it… a stock buy-back program and dividends. How inspired. Warp speed, here we come.

    1. The reason Steve got booted in the first place was for mucking up the operational side of things. If he’d just stuck to being a figurehead and keeping the product development folks focused, things would have been fine. All the great ideas in the world are useless if you can’t execute them. Which is where Apple’s resurgence and ridiculous profits come from. As long as Cook stays out of Ive’s way (and that culture is pretty well established) they should be fine for quite awhile.
      Just being an iconoclast for it’s own sake means nothing. Only if you are actually moving something forward is it useful at all. And it’s entirely possible to move things forward without all the needless, non-value-added struggle. In fact you get more, sooner, for less. Win-win.

  7. Unfortunately, and as expected, lots of comments from folks who know zip about MBA’s, business, engineering or design. Reading magazine articles about Apple for years does not make you an expert in any of these. Damned few of those articles are written by anyone expert in any of those fields either.

    Lashinsky is good and I’d give him a B for the article – only because a small piece of it is wasting time on crystall ball predictions even if he uses quotes from “a former long-time engineer” – which is meaningless except for illustrating a conclusion based on that crystal ball.

  8. It makes no sense to pass judgment (or allude to it) on Tim Cook just yet.

    He needs to cut his teeth with a first product launch of his own – I mean a brand new product and not a iPhone++ or a iPad++ – Apple is famous for making new products that delight customers and not for having friends in the wall street or at DC. And making new products takes time. I would give Tim that time and wait for the next fab product from Apple. Till then, he can eat with who he wants and be the friendliest CEO ever – but all that simply doesn’t count. Roll out the innovation, that’s what we are waiting for.

  9. Chuck Burnstagger Friday, May 25, 2012

    The destruction of Apple has begun. Cook is another John Sculley. Goodbye Apple.

  10. MBA’S, Lawyers, Accountants, Marketeers, Salesman, and Bankers, are fine for short term advice, but running (power to make decisions on the ultimate design) in a Design-Engineering, Technical, Software Design, Pharmaceutical, Car manufacturing company will lead to the downfall of the company, Schiller or anyone like him should never ever be CEO at Apple. Apple had 12 years with MBA’S, Sales, and Marketing people running the company it can’t work (i.e. HP in the last 12 years). Jon Ivie and Scot Forsall and people like them are by far the most important resource at a tech company. Look at what the school systems are pumping out in this country, MBA’S, Lawyers, Accountants, Marketeers, Salesman, and Bankers none of them build anything, there is a reason Germany is still doing well in comparison to some of the other European countries they still design and build things.

  11. I wonder why no one ever questions the pervasive view that Jobs’ passing was the end of Apple. Have you ever known anyone with Pancreatic cance, and had to have chemo and radiation treatments….and took two years off separately to recover. And everyone buys the argument that Jobs was intimately involved with all product ideas since his cancer turned bad in 2005? Newsflash, chemo and radiation are completely debilitating. I suspect Tim Cook has been somewhat selfless not taking credit for much if any of Apple’s success the last 4-5 years. I for one don’t buy arm chair journalists who purport to know everything.

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