One Year of Tim Cook: Is He a Visionary or a Genius Executive?

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One Year of Tim Cook: Is He a Visionary or a Genius Executive?
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One Year of Tim Cook: Is He a Visionary or a Genius Executive?

One year ago today Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple anointing Tim Cook king of the iKingdom and by many metrics he has done a good job as leader of the gadgeteers. But, when Cook took the helm last August 24th, that wasn't the concern. Rather, the pundits wondered if Cook had a Steve Jobs-like vision that made the company so successful. From the New York Times' David Pogue, for example:

Tim Cook gets rave reviews as an executive and numbers guy. But is he a Jobs-style visionary? Does he have Jobs-style charisma? Does he have a Jobsian reality distortion field? … Does he know where the puck of public taste will come to rest two years from now? Five years from now? 

With 365 days of Apple behind him, we can start to answer those questions by looking at various company and Cook milestones over that time. 

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  • August 24, 2011: Cook takes over.
  • October 4, 2011: iPhone 4S release. The phone upgrade was the first big milestone Cook had to orchestrate without Jobs. The actual event went well, but Cook didn't do the phone presenting, as Jobs would have. And first reactions worried that the phone was too similar to the 4. None of that mattered, when it came to sales, however, with Apple setting new records in that department. RATING: Genius CEO. The technological innovation behind this phone (Siri) probably came from the brain of Jobs, who died the next day. With this one, however, Cook proved that he could maintain Apple's mobile dominance, selling more phones than ever.
  • November 29, 2011: Siri abortion scandal. It only took a couple of months for people to start asking Siri scandalous questions, which got the phone in a bit of PR trouble when Siri gave seemingly pro-life answers. Cook gave a communications department approved statement, something the quiet Jobs probably would not have done. Apple eventually fixed the "glitch." RATING: Genius CEO. Having the CEO response was the type of PR.
  • January-March 2012: Foxconn labor issues. After a group of Foxconn workers in China threatened suicide, Apple became the face of the poor working conditions at the electronics maker, partly because of the later retracted This American Life episode featuring a monologue by Mike Daisey. Again, unlike Steve Jobs, Cook put out an official statement. For the first time, Apple worked with the Fair Labor Associated for factory audits. It put out a report of its suppliers for the first time, too. Cook even went to China, visiting Foxconn factories while there -- again, something Jobs never ever did. RATING: Genius CEO and Visionary. A lot of what Cook did was expert public relations handling, the type of thing Jobs never bothered with. But, not all of it made Apple look that great -- the suppliers report showed some unfortunate child labor. And, it had some positive effects for Foxconn workers, who got raises. 
  • March 7, 2012: New iPad. This was Cook's first product release without Steve Jobs. The big unveil was the iPad with Retina display and this time Cook did the talking. RATING: VisionaryThe reactions to the new iPad were similar to the iPhone 4S: the same, but better. But then people noticed the screen. Though a lot of sites and apps aren't yet optimized for the new screen, it is the type of improvement that mattered enough for Apple to add it anyway. It's the kind of thing we didn't know we wanted until Apple told us we did. 
  • June 11, 2012: More new Apple products. The next round of Apple products were less exciting than a new iPad. This time we got a Macbook with Retina display, a new Macbook Air, the official Mountain Lion operation system release, and an idea of what the new iOS with the new iPhone will look like. RATING: Genius CEO, if that. There wasn't anything too crazy exciting in this. It was just another Apple event that got the fanboys exciting. It was more of a product upgrade announcement than an unveiling. Even the most exciting thing -- the MacBook with Retina -- was an old trick. 
  • March 2012-Now: Apple TV. Back during that March iPad announcement, Cook announced some upgrades to Apple's TV box thing. But throughout the year we have seen rumors about other, more exciting visions of a TV from Apple. The latest is that Apple is working with content companies not to create a standalone service, but something that involves cable. RATING: TBD. Apple has the potential to do something big with television. But, so far from what we hear, their plans don't sound too crazy. As this is all hearsay anyway, we don't want to doubt Cook just yet. Apple TV could be his Steve Jobs moment. 

Overall, Cook has convinced us that he is a very competent CEO, but not quite a Jobs-level visionary. The year ended with his company getting the (maybe not deserved) title of most valuable company of all time and we only expect more success after the upcoming iPhone and iPad (maybe mini) release. Of course, he was gifted an already very popular company, which arguable even the worst CEO could make look pretty good. But, Cook has done better than just that, giving the company a face that isn't so sour. 

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