All it takes is the phrase ‘Steve Jobs vs. Tim Cook‘ in Safari’s search field and you’ll wile away an hour digesting a variety of opinions and perspectives on Apple’s two most recent leaders. What you’ll find will be interesting. While Jobs and Cook differ in capability and style, the end result is about the same.
Apple Is Apple
Allow me to bring my conclusion to the forefront. Apple is Apple. The company that Steve Jobs co-founded and rebuilt in the 1990s and early 2000s is somewhat unique among technology companies.
Since 1997, Apple has had two leaders. Steve Jobs until shortly before his death in late 2011, and Tim Cook, arguably the #2 guy for most of Jobs’ tenure.
The differences between the two are striking. Cook is a southern gentleman, a mild-mannered pedigree engineer who toiled at IBM and Compaq before being hired by Jobs to run Apple’s operations.
Jobs, on the other hand, was brash, tough, opinionated (mercurial comes to mind), and obviously an effective inspirational leader with a unique blend of hubris, chutzpah, insight, charm, and vision. It doesn’t seem as if Cook has similar traits.
Jobs and Cook. Frankly, the two could not be more unlike each other. So, why is it that with two utterly different leaders, Apple seems pretty much the same old Apple (as it was under Jobs’ leadership)?
The Same Old Apple
I know what you’re thinking. ‘Wait a minute, Kate. Apple is not the same. It has changed.’ Well, no it hasn’t; not really.
Apple under Cook has launched impressive product upgrades throughout the entire line, just as it did under Jobs. Under Cook, Apple has screwed up a few times, just as it did regularly under Jobs (MobileMe vs. Apple Maps, Antennagate vs. iMac delays).
Under Jobs, Apple didn’t seem to give a rats patootie about the company’s stock price. Amazingly, under Cook the stock exploded and imploded (still higher than when Jobs died), and Apple still doesn’t seem to care much about the billions in riches or the stock price. True, there’s a dividend now, and a buy back program that may not have seen the light of day under Jobs, but we’ll never know, though Jobs matured and softened a bit over the years.
More Alike? Or, Not!
Apple’s famed secrecy was important to Jobs and it seems as important if not more so under Cook. Jobs cut a deal with the devil to keep Microsoft Office on the Mac, while Cook didn’t hesitate to remove a Jobs understudy and perhaps heir apparent in Scott Forstall.
Jobs could be ruthless and vindictive with competitors, a direction pushed forward by Cook as Apple engages in tough legal battles with Samsung and others, while moving lucrative chip manufacturing business away from vendor Samsung.
Other than toughness, usually bred by years of success, I don’t see much that’s similar between Jobs’ management style and Cook’s management of Apple so far. Regardless, Apple still seems pretty much like Apple. The company doesn’t care about upending or disrupting a product market segment until it is ready to do so. It disrupts, integrates, then iterates, almost ad nauseam.
It’s easy to see the differences between Jobs and Cook, but it’s more difficult to see how Apple is much different under Cook’s reign than under Jobs. What we haven’t seen from Apple yet under Cook, and what everyone expects soon, is the next great thing, a new product that disrupts a market. Such hallmark events don’t occur on a schedule. I’m waiting. And watching.