How has Apple changed under Mr. Cook? Is it for better or worse?
Apple is becoming a more traditional, process-focused company under Cook. Project managers have more say than ever before and product development is accompanied by more rigorous financial analysis.
In terms of the role of the C.E.O., Cook is more of a delegator compared with Jobs, who got into the weeds of anything that interested him. Cook is also a better internal communicator. He sends out more all-staff emails and holds more town hall meetings. He also understands that people need to take vacations and have down time, whereas Jobs routinely made a habit of calling people back midvacation.
The question of whether these changes are for the better is complex. Cook brings more efficiency and organization to Apple, which is good because the company’s increased size and scale requires a professional, consistent leadership style that is more inclusive than Steve Jobs’s was.
But this style also adds layers of bureaucracy, which can slow down innovation. By a similar token, while it’s nice for employees to get more flexibility with vacations and such, you lose the intensity that is required to keep hitting home run after home run. It’s not a surprise that one of Jobs’s first acts upon returning to Apple back in the 1990s was to eliminate its sabbatical program.
In your book you portray Tim as a foil to Steve. Steve was a micromanager, obsessed with details and prone to temper tantrums. Tim, by contrast, seems laid back and steady-handed. What are the pros and cons to their different styles of management?
I don’t think of Tim as laid back. In fact, he’s extremely intense. His intensity is just more quiet and dogged than Steve’s.
The advantages of Steve’s approach were that he was dynamic and involved. His demands could be outrageous – for example, people had to work on Christmas Day because he decided he wanted a different color iPod shuffle at the last minute. Not all of those little obsessions may have mattered, but together they added up into the company’s game-changing lineup of products and services.
Cook is more systematic and analytical. That means that he’ll run a tight ship, and Apple will be financially well managed under him. I’m not sure we’ll ever see his thumbprint on a product, though, because he’s not the type of person to get involved in the minutiae. I could see him running the numbers to make sure that new products are marketable, but he depends on his lieutenants to figure out the nitty-gritty.
One anecdote came up in my reporting that I think really shows the difference in their thinking. I don’t know if there was an official policy, but in the first weeks after launching a product, Apple would often replace damaged devices even if the customer is at fault.
When the idea was first proposed, Steve liked it because he saw how satisfied customers could bring in more business through positive word of mouth. His attitude was, “Hey, we’ve got to make people happy. If we’re spending an extra nickel, it’s O.K.”
Tim was initially opposed because of the potential costs.
Tim fired Scott Forstall after the embarrassing hiccups with Apple maps. Was this a mistake? Do you think Steve would have done the same thing?
I think that Forstall’s departure is a loss to the company. He was a bright engineer with ambition and vision, and no company can afford to lose that kind of talent. But he was also the least-liked executive team member and was a controversial and disruptive figure. Jobs had the force of personality to rein in other strong personalities like Forstall’s, but if Tim Cook couldn’t control him, it was the right call to ask for his resignation.
It’s anyone’s guess how Steve would have reacted. It would have probably depended partly on whether he knew of the problems beforehand.
The book seems to conclude that Apple will go in a downward spiral without Steve as its leader. But Apple’s profits are still extremely high, and it continues to break sales records with iPhones and iPads. Why are those numbers not enough?
In terms of profits and revenues, there is no question that Apple continues to be a successful company. But Apple’s own definition of success is much more. Its promise is to be exceptional – to make insanely great products that change the world. The latter is difficult to do without Steve Jobs’s reality distortion field. In its absence, Apple is simply less convincing.
If Apple lowers its bar of success to something closer to that of its competitors, then it could continue to do “great.” But then you’re talking about a great company on a more ordinary scale. And, likely, with lower profit margins to match.
Where do you see Apple going in a few years? Does it remind you of any other big companies, and if so, how?
I can’t predict what is going to happen in the long term. Apple still has time to course-correct, and companies tend to go through cycles of peaks and valleys. What I do see is that Apple is currently struggling to cope with the loss of a visionary founder whose presence was an integral part of the company’s identity. At the same time, Apple is also trying to keep its dominance in a hyper-competitive industry.
The business challenges that Apple is facing would have been considerable even if Steve Jobs were around. His loss makes it all the more difficult because there is no one with the moral authority to take the kind of risks that made Apple so iconic in the first place. A hired manager will never have the same authority as a man who not only founded the company, but rescued it as well.
At the end of the day, Apple is just as mortal as everyone else. If Apple stays on the current trajectory, I think the danger is that it could turn into Sony.