Apple CEO Tim Cook does not get the credit he deserves

Chuck Jones for Forbes:

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook
Steve Jobs stepped down from being Apple’s CEO on August 25, 2011, and Tim Cook replaced him. It would be impossible to fill Jobs shoes, but I think Cook has done a very good job (no pun intended) while some analysts and pundits say he should be replaced since the company hasn’t had a new product as successful as the iPhone or done any large acquisitions.

I believe when you look at the numbers and think through the challenges of integrating large companies (which many times wind up creating less value than what the acquiring company paid for them) Apple has a better approach by buying small, technology oriented firms that can be more easily integrated into Apple.

Its product strategy of coming out with a few very good products or services that it grows over time takes longer than buying a large revenue stream. While investors may not “reward” a company or view it as “sexy” with this tactic, it is also less risky from multiple aspects and probably does better over the long-term.

[Critics] seem to ignore some new products that are generating tens of billions of revenue every year… While the Apple Watch and AirPods don’t account for all the revenue in the company’s “Wearables, Home and Accessories” category, they probably made up the bulk of the $18 billion that was generated in the first three quarters of this fiscal year. It was fiscal 2010; the third full year the iPhone was available that it reached the same revenue level, which is about the size of a Fortune 150 company such as McDonald’s or Broadcom…

Building a Services business isn’t nearly as sexy as launching a hardware product that takes the world by storm, but growing one from a few billion dollars per year in revenue to the size of a Fortune 63 company (Cisco is #64 with $49 billion in revenue) is quite an achievement.

MacDailyNews Take: Tim Cook is in the unenviable position of following an act that’s impossible to follow.

As our own SteveJack wrote nearly two years ago:

As always, the question is how much of this success is due to the momentum bequeathed by Steve Jobs (which any competent, or even semi-competent, caretaker CEO could ride) and how much is ascribable to Cook.

Post-Jobs, there have certainly been successes, Apple Watch, for one under-appreciated example, although we’ve heard that Steve Jobs most certainly did know about and expect Apple to make a smartwatch, and inexplicable misses (the myopic neglect of the profitable and successful Macintosh which, under Cook, ended its long quarterly string of outgrowing the Windows PC market and which is still struggling to regain its footing with professional Macs that professionals want to buy, for one example. For another: HomePod is an obvious follower move, a pure reaction to Amazon Echo, and hence an example of Apple’s lack of vision under Cook. Don’t get us wrong: It’ll be the best smart speaker on the market when it finally gets here and we’ll be buying multiple units for our homes and offices, but, like many things under Cook, it is late, as were iPhones with larger displays by two years at least – the nonexistence of which gave Samsung a huge, undeserved toehold into far too many smartphone users’ lives).

Cook is obviously an excellent CEO. The longer he is CEO the clearer it will become just how much of a “visionary” he is or is not. At this point, “The Vision Thing” may not matter. Apple may not need a visionary virtuoso like Steve Jobs as the company is so large and so rich, they can now afford to wait, holding their fingers to the wind, and then swoop in from behind and take over in new markets with stellar execution as they will very soon in the top end (read: profitable portion) of the smart speaker market. They may also eventually end up doing the same thing in the streaming box market where they were once the innovator and leader with Apple TV, under Jobs, and are now looking to come from way behind (by finally creating their own compelling exclusive content) where they’ve fallen under Cook.

Of course, it’s all hugely complicated by the fact that the transition happened the way it did. Jobs was taken way too soon. He left Cook with the albatross of building the massive Apple Park, a huge distraction that is still ongoing. Hopefully once the core of the company is moved in there and working, strange things like neglecting the Mac Pro for years will stop happening.

As always and regardless of who Apple’s CEO is, following Steve Jobs’ act is an impossible, generally thankless task (outside of the becoming fabulously rich aspect, of course).

23 Comments

  1. Actually I give Tim ALL the credit for messing up so badly and completely with the Mac Pro. No other CEO would have done that quite as ineptly and inconsiderately of Apple’s pro base as TC.

    1. As do the anti-whiners show up who whine without understanding that some have real professional making-a-living-with-Mac-Pros beefs with Tim. Thanks for being predictable!

        1. 90% of computing power users have abandoned Apple. that’s what happens when Apple offers nothing but glued sealed locked down products with horrible keyboards and “thermal corners”. shitty designs at high prices will attract criticism like nothing else.

          the audible gasp when Apple announced its $1000 aluminum display stand should tell you that even the most diehard fanboys are surprised how out of touch Apple often can be. the poor presenter couldn’t even impress the crowd with tales of elfin-machined internals lubricated with biodegradable unicorn snot and featuring Sir Jony personally selected hand wound unobtanium springs that no one will ever see. ignore of course the chromed legs on the new Mac Pro — chrome represents one of the most toxic metal finishes.

          it would be nice for Apple to at least offer a non-Pro tower Mac priced for mere mortals.

  2. I guess if your only metric is profit (and that’s pretty sad), sure. In every other conceivable way, he’s been pretty mediocre, if not outright annoying. Profit isn’t everything, and that misunderstanding is precisely why the modern valley is joke. Yawn.

  3. He’s not appreciated because he’s not Steve Jobs. Does anyone remember who took Lou Gehrig’s or Joe Dimaggio’s place on the Yankees team? When you’re in the shadow of some amazingly great person who went before you, it’s hard to get any respect. I’m not sure anyone respects Tim Cook. I think he’s doing a good job, but not necessarily a great job. I still think Apple should have the largest market cap of all tech companies, but that may not be a sensible metric of success and that may not be Tim Cook’s fault how Apple is playing second fiddle to Microsoft. However, I do think more emphasis should have been put on other Apple products and not mainly the iPhone. Besides, I’m not worthy of judging any CEO as I believe it’s not an easy job to try and satisfy so many demanding people. I’m sitting home and collecting decent Apple dividends so I have no real reason to complain about Tim Cook’s performance as CEO.

  4. Lionizing Tim Cook is like lionizing Edsel Ford.

    Limp-wristed inheritors of strong companies are not impressive no matter how much money their corporate machines print. Once the machine is operating, any caretaker can sit at the helm and skim off the profits. It will take many years before we will all see the effects of bad decisions. Look at GE today, whose demise is coming directly as a result of some of Neutron Jack Welch’s decisions. Most people who didn’t actually work for Welch thought he was a deity back in the day.

    What matters to users and long-term investors is how well the company serves its customers today and tomorrow. Sorry, but Apple is coasting its way to becoming a GE-like inconsistent fractured mess, and Apple only makes a few dozen products. It makes most of its money not by its own innovation or user-oriented solutions, but by skimming easy profits off media & app sales to its corralled iOS sheep.

    Where is the wow today? While there are some bright spots (Apple chip design), Cook has outsourced too much. Product design is pathetically incremental at best. Adding expensive cameras to phat iPhones got MDN excited this year, last year the big innovations were Samsung OLED screens. Why? There’s no must-have magic in these tweaks. Despite rumors of Apple-branded Glasshole spectacles and Apple electric cars, the last decade has shown Apple to be a laggard just about everywhere in terms of fundamental new innovations. Maps, Siri, etc are mediocre at best. Whatever R&D Apple is doing, the pipeline looks awfully constipated. While Apple poured thousands of man hours imitating Snapchat functions into Messages and adding emojis, Amazon built a premium cloud service and is in the process of destroying retail – including Apple retail. Google entrenched itself as the premier map and search and cloud company, with Apple doing nothing to challenge it. Microsoft remains the dominant enterprise computing company with significant cloud presence. What has Apple done? A walled garden on the Gillette razor business model, with 3rd party app developers making the replacement blades. For a company that used to like to deliver user-empowering technology to mainstream customers at affordable prices, Apple is slowly losing its lead on all fronts, except perhaps cash pile in the Cayman Islands. Its services all look like big-brother control for self enrichment. That is emphatically not the Apple goal that Cook and Woz were all about.

    I challenge the Cook supporters to identify one essential function that Apple offers you that cannot be accomplished at an equal or lower price by an alternate company. You can’t even say that Apple saves you time, because many of its products don’t “just work”. Thousands of companies operate fine without Apple. Very few companies, including Apple, can operate on 100% Apple solutions. What Apple doesn’t outsource, Apple itself runs on HP/Linux hardware. Foxconn factories don’t use Apple hardware to build Apple products. There are relatively few premier scientific and engineering software titles available on the Mac. What does that tell you? Instead of creating and maintaining irreplaceable product leadership, Cook has leveraged the brand name in order to charge high prices for its increasingly fashion-first products and me-too services, almost all of them pioneered by other companies.

    When the Mac was the center of the Apple experience, things made sense and in general they “just worked”. That model was abandoned so that Apple could rent users iCloud space. But Cook mismanaged that too. Being a professional outsourcer, iCloud is simply rebranded Google/AWS/Azure cloud. The cohesion one would expect from an Apple ecosystem doesn’t exist. With rare exception, stuff doesn’t work better when you stick to all Apple branded stuff.

    Today Apple released MacOS Catalina, with a feature called Sidecar. This is a feature that finally delivers what iPad + Mac owners have asked for for at least 8 years. Before this, having an iPad and a Mac was often very frustrating. 8 years for the obvious. 6 years to get an overpriced Mac tower that is worthy of the Mac Pro name. Seriously, this company needs better leadership. Apple customers should not be paying premium prices for pretty fashion that has less and less underlying substance to it.

    Benioff or Nadella would be a better leader than Cook. Those guys are churning out significant innovations faster than Cook at this point.

    1. Gawd!!!! Get a life! And if Apple is so terrible, and has been for years, the inevitable question arises… what the heck are you doing here?

      Why aren’t you off enjoying all this great innovation that you say Nadella is “churning out”?

      1. I am a Mac user. This is the one thing Apple has that is truly better than the alternatives, though it’s partly personal preference. Cook has mismanaged the Mac platform to the point that 3rd party software developers treat the Mac as an afterthought.

        What has Nadella done?
        – He’s outperformed AAPL in the stock market
        – He’s sharpened Microsoft’s focus on corporate customers with some impressive, comprehensive cloud service offerings.
        – He’s fixed the poorly performing Surface product line into something halfway respectable
        – He’s promoted R&D in things like the Hololens
        – He’s taken Ballmer’s disastrous Windows 8 crapware and polished it into pretty decent Windows 10 OS that works on convertible tablet/laptop products
        – He’s continued to expand Office dominance in productivity software
        – He’s brought strategic thinking to Redmond, where before Ballmer was just an operations gorilla
        – He’s outpaced Siri development with the Cortana machine learning
        – He’s kept PC makers and 3rd party software developers sticking with Windows rather than defecting en masse to Linux and Chrome

        Believe me, I am no Microsoft fan, but credit needs to be offered where it is earned. Cook has been coasting in comparison.

        1. Sorry Mike, not feeling the ‘wow’ factor on any of those fronts. Full credit to Nadella for the turnaround and course corrections on many of the points you described but when you’re following the worst CEOs in the history of CEOs, its not hard to look good. Where’s the innovation here? You ask… “I challenge the Cook supporters to identify one essential function that Apple offers you that cannot be accomplished at an equal or lower price by an alternate company.”. Go back ten years and replace ‘Cook’ with ‘Jobs’ and ask yourself the same question. Nothing Apple offers or offered has ever been essential but with a few exceptions (then and now) Apples stuff has always been better.

          1. I cannot disagree more. Mike is correct on this.

            Sure, you can say that as markets mature, big hits are harder to find. But come on, Jobs with the iPod put 1000 songs in your pocket, and the user could buy singles instead of full CDs if they wanted. That was revolutionary.

            Timmy overpaid for a company that copied Pandora and Spotify. Whoo-hoo.

            Cook had a hard act to follow, but Timid Tim isn’t even trying to delight customers with his slow incremental approach to everything. Sorry, but making disposable wireless headphones are just sugar water compared to the breakthroughs Jobs ushered in.

            1. Not to split hairs but I was responding to Mike’s point, specifically “ one essential function that Apple offers you that cannot be accomplished at an equal or lower price by an alternate company.”. There have always been cheap alternatives to every product Apple has offered, often times well before Apple even entered the market in question. Mike mentions ‘equal or better price” and on that metric alone, Apple has never competed. And the whole notion that Microsoft is out innovating Apple right now is pretty ridiculous. Apple’s explosive growth in services can possibly be viewed as ‘revolutionary’, at least compared to anything Mike compiled in his list above. Whether I even agree with that is another story but my point is, if that’s a list of Microsoft’s innovation then I think you need to credit Apple a lot more than you have.

            2. Rico: and I gave you a concrete example. The iPod was a tangibly better personal music system than anything else available at that time at any price. Now Apple seems to be more interested in media subscribers.

              Mike is right about Apple being a headless gorilla too.

  5. As far as I can tell, and despite missteps (I’ve been ready to leave over the utter mess made of the MacBook Pro situation and the malign neglect of Macs in general), I’ve been increasingly feeling that for the first time since Steve Jobs’ death the company is finally starting to fire on virtually all cylinders at once.

    Catalina and iPadOS in particular seem real steps in the right direction, and Sidecar has me wanting both a (hopefully 16″ MBP and new IPP).

    Watch is a real and manifestly robust product line with its own momentum, both breaking away from phone and still making a case for the ecosystem.

    Airpods seem wildly successful.

    In term of the executive sweet what pleases me is seeing Sir Jony move on. He’s pushed the company into multiple miscues with his monofocus on aesthetic design. It moved from key differentiator under Jobs to too much authority and autonomy in the vacuum created by the chief visionary’s departure.

    I think this is part of why the iPhones 11 bode to do much better than the previous year’s offerings. The other is superb engineering execution by the imaging teams that catches up to most others and leapfrogs all but an arguable few. They’re also better positioned on price than in a minute. Keeping the high end and offering more to more people – especially in other countries.

    Also, I’ll argue the new Mac Pro is likely exactly what Apple’s most “pro” customers has been waiting for – and is well within their budgets. Even though I still think the company should throw its long suffering gear heads a bone with the loooong awaited mythical mid-range Mac. I really think it could hold its own. But they keep being curiously stubborn on that score.

    And few are mentioning here their very profitable and rapidly growing set of services. Not too many duds there with Music, the arguably brilliant Arcade, and we’ll see about TV, etc…..

    Plus whatever’s to come in AR and more.

    It’s not been a monster homerun every few years, but it’s feeling like a series of ongoing pretty steady singles, doubles and a few triples to boot.

    I know I’ve done well in owning a small piece of the company. I know I’d rather Cook be in the chair than any of his regular bashers on this page…..

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