What leaders of 21st Century companies look like

Tim Cook – Joining Apple was “the best decision that I ever made”
[Via Edible Apple]

Over the past few years, Apple COO Tim Cook has taken on an increasingly greater public role at Apple, especially in light of the fact that Steve Jobs has consistently handed Cook the reigns when he has to take time away from the company to deal with medical issues.

But who is Tim Cook?

Known as an extremely hardworking, effective, and efficient executive, Cook in many ways embodies the opposite of Jobs’ in-your-face and smooth talking persona. So while we may not know much about Tim Cook, the following speech he gave during Auburn University’s 2010 Spring Commencement includes some interesting details that shed some light on how Cook would up at Apple, why he thinks working at Apple was the most important decision of his life, and why he decided to jump ship for Apple just 5 minutes into his job interview with Steve Jobs. The pertinent portion of the speech begins at the 3:25 mark though we’ve transcribed all of the Apple-centric parts below for your reading enjoyment.

“I stand before you with a deep sense of humility. Both because of how i got here and who is here. I am where I am in life because my parents sacrificed more than they should have, because of teachers, professors, friends and mentors who cared more than they had to, and because of Steve Jobs and Apple who have provided me the opportunity to engage in truly meaningful work every day for over 12 years.

My most significant discovery so far in my life was the result of one single decision, my decision to join Apple. Working at Apple was never in any plan that I outlined for myself, but was without a doubt the best decision that I ever made…

The decision to come to Apple which I made in early 1998 was not so obvious. Since most of you graduates were 10 years old at the time, you may not realize that the Apple in early 1998 was very different than the Apple of today. In 1998 there was no iPad or iMac or iPhone. There wasn’t even an iPod – I know it’s hard to imagine life without iPods!


Described as “relentless”, the New York Times profiles Tim Cook
[Via Edible Apple]

The New York Times today profiled COO and day-to-day CEO Tim Cook, looking into the executives background and management style, both clear departures from those possessed by Jobs. What the two do share, however, is an exhaustive attention to detail and an uncanny ability to extract the best out of colleagues and business associates.

Described as a relentless worker, the Times relays a story wherein Cook landed in China for a business meeting at 6 a.m and was still operating at a high energy level 12 hours later, long after local executives had already grown tired.

They were absolutely exhausted,” said Michael Janes, the Apple executive who accompanied Mr. Cook. “Tim was not. He was ready to jump to the next slide and the next slide after that. He is absolutely relentless.”

Originally joining Apple in 1998, Cook was tasked with streamlining Apple’s operations, making them efficient, and more importantly, profitable.

Apple was smaller then and largely focused on making PCs. Its operations were a mess.

Apple was still running its own factories in California, Ireland and Singapore. While more profitable and efficient companies like Dell had moved to a just-in-time manufacturing model, Apple still held 90 days of inventory.

Mr. Cook closed Apple’s factories and outsourced all manufacturing to a far-flung network of suppliers in Asia. Inventories decreased to 60 days, then to 30 days, then to the just-in-time model. Mr. Cook virtually lived in airplanes, traveling the world to meet with suppliers and browbeat them into meeting his demands.


21st Century Companies provide a distinct business model than old style ones. In particular, decisions arise from disbursed leadership rather than strict hierarchical. Independent  adaptability and rapid movement are the paradigms of these sorts of companies. Google may very well be another 21st Century company as it is run by a triumvirate of smart guys, all with the ability to make independent decisions. The CEO is a legal fiction not an operational one.

Apple may have seemed like it was all Jobs, but simply looking at their leaders, one can see the disbursed decision-making needed for an adaptive 21st Century company.

Apple is more than just Steve Jobs. It has a leadership, and an organization, that has internalized all the motifs needed in the corporate narrative to create an extremely adaptive and sustainable company. The Cook Doctrine could just as easily have been articulated by Jobs or by Lassiter at Pixar.