In His Stead: A Look at Tim Cook and What He Means for Apple

ref_05cookBy now, you’ll all have heard about Steve Jobs’ decision to take a temporary leave of absence in the face of growing health concerns, and you’ll also likely have have heard that Apple COO Tim Cook will be stepping in as acting CEO while he’s away. In the wake of the significant losses Apple’s stock prices have taken, it’s understandable to want to take a closer look at just who Tim Cook is, and, more importantly, at what he’ll mean for Apple with Jobs sidelined.

Despite definite personality differences (Jobs is animated while Cook is generally cool and reserved), most accounts agree that Cook will not bring any major changes in management style to the company. According to a statement to by former Apple employee Mike Janes, who was in charge of the online Apple Store for five years, Cook has in fact already been running the company for many years, while Jobs has been the public leader.

Tim Cook’s Background

Cook joined Apple when things were not looking so bright for the computer company. He is credited with having helped turn the company around following his arrival in 1998, when he helped to correct manufacturing inefficiencies that were taking a big chunk out of Apple’s bottom line. Prior to Apple, Cook boasts an impressive resumé, with stints at Compaq and IBM.

Known for his boundless energy, Cook is a dedicated cyclist, and sits on Nike’s board of directors. Sitting on another company’s board is another trait he shares with Jobs, and the two are the only Apple executives to do so.

Cook is no stranger to filling Jobs’ shoes. He did so in 2004 when Jobs left for over a month to undergo treatment for pancreatic cancer. This time around, the situation is more grave, owing both to the proposed length of Steve’s leave, and to the perceived seriousness of his medical condition. We suggested yesterday that there may be more to this issue than meets the eye, and, judging by Wall Street’s reaction, many others tend to agree.

So What Does He Mean for Apple?

So what will Tim Cook mean for Apple this time around? All evidence suggests that he is a “stay the course” kind of guy, as befits an interim CEO. That’s all well and good, but when you’re Apple, you depend on a certain amount of dazzle, mystery, and intrigue to maintain your brand image and promote growth. Keeping the ship on an even keel is fine for a month or two, but over the course of six months, you risk becoming boring.

From now until June, Cook’s moves will be highly scrutinized. I don’t necessarily predict stunt moves and events, but I do expect some kind of hardware unveil, and possibly Snow Leopard’s introduction, between now and then, in an effort to recapture some momentum. The lackluster Macworld keynote, with its exhaustively detailed iLife ’09 review, might’ve had some major reveals taken out at the last minute to save some wow factor for Cook to bring out while Jobs is away.

Make no mistake, this is an audition for Cook. An audition for Apple shareholders, stakeholders, and likely, for Jobs himself. How well he performs will likely determine whether that “interim” ever gets dropped from his title, and possibly, the future of Apple as a company.