On Sunday, August 11, 2011, Tim Cook got a call that would change his life. When he picked up the phone, Steve Jobs was on the other end, asking him to come to his home in Palo Alto. At the time, Jobs was convalescing from treatment for pancreatic cancer and a recent liver transplant.
He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2003, and after initially resisting treatment, he had undergone several increasingly invasive procedures to fight the disease ravaging his body. Cook, surprised by the call, asked when he should come over, and when Jobs replied, “Now,” Cook knew it was important. He set off immediately to Jobs’s home.
When he arrived, Jobs told Cook that he wanted him to take over as CEO of Apple. The plan was for Jobs to step down as CEO, go into semi-retirement, and become the chairman of Apple’s board.
Even though Jobs was very sick, both men believed- or at least pretended- that he would be around for a while yet. Though he had been diagnosed several years before, he had lived for many years with the disease, refusing to slow down or step back from Apple.
In fact, only a few months earlier, in the spring of 2011 he had told his biographer Walter Isaacson: “There’ll be more; I’ll get to the next lily pad; I’ll outrun the cancer.” Always determined, Jobs refused to back down or admit that his illness was serious. And at that time, he truly believed he would survive it.”
For both men, Job’s new appointment as chairman wasn’t an honorary title or something to keep the shareholders happy; it was a real, honest-to-goodness job that would allow him to oversee and steer Apple’s future direction.
Taking a more hands- on approach to interactions with staff was different from Jobs’s style. Cook’s first email sparked a trend within the company that helped a new culture to develop under his leadership. His emails and other internal communications, such as town hall meetings, helped the new CEO spread his values throughout the company.
He also made a conscious effort to adopt some of the things that Jobs had done to establish a sense of continuity between the two leaders. One neat touch Jobs had employed to make himself more approachable was to have a publicly available email address: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Cook continued this tradition, responding personally to some of the hundreds of emails that flocked in following his CEO appointment.
One correspondent, a man named Justin R, wrote to Cook, “Tim, just wanted to wish you the best of luck, and to let you know that there are a lot of us that are excited to see where Apple is going. Oh, one more thing- WAR DAMN EAGLE!” (a reference to the “War Eagle” battle cry of Cook’s alma mater, Auburn University). And of course, Cook responded: “Thanks Justin. War Eagle forever!”
He wasn’t just a boring operations guy- these emails gave the public a taste of his personality and showed them that he was a leader dedicated not only to his company but to his customers as well.
As Steve Jobs was being immortalised in every newspaper, magazine, and blog, and on every TV channel and radio station across the globe, the gaze of the world quickly turned to Tim Cook. Doubts about the new CEO persisted while glowing obituaries for Jobs continued to flow. Pundits were sceptical about the sort of company Apple would become without its visionary leader, and fans of Apple were fearful for its future. It was clear from the beginning that Cook’s anointment as CEO would be both a blessing and a curse.
An intensely private and softspoken man, Cook never thought he’d be made CEO. And he certainly never thought he’d replace Jobs. He once famously said, “Come on, replace Steve? No. He’s irreplaceable. That’s something people have to get over. I see Steve there with gray hair in his 70s, long after I’m retired.” Of course, that’s not how things worked out.
But if Cook was uneasy about taking on this challenge, it wasn’t apparent, even to his closest colleagues like Greg Joswiak.
“The world was nervous,” but “if [Cook] was [nervous], he certainly didn’t show it.” If not for his cool demeanor in the face of this significant challenge, Apple would have been a much more difficult place to work after Jobs’s death.
understood how Cook operated, even if the rest of the world did not. “He took a lot of unfair criticism early on. . . . The outside world wanted to compare him to Steve.” But Cook “wasn’t going to try to be Steve,” Joswiak said. “And what a smart thing because no one could be Steve.. . . Instead Tim was Tim. Tim brought the things that he could to the business.”
Like most successful leaders, Cook played to his unique strengths to run the company effectively. In a September 2014 interview with Charlie Rose, he explained that Jobs never expected him to lead Apple in the same way that he had.
“He knew, when he chose me, that I wasn’t like him, that I’m not a carbon copy of him,” Cook told Rose. “And so he obviously thought through that deeply, about who he wanted to lead Apple. I have always felt the responsibility of that.”
Cook says he desperately wanted to continue Jobs’s legacy and “pour every ounce that I had in myself into the company,” but he never had the objective of being the same as Jobs. “I knew, the only person I can be is the person I am,” he continued. “I’ve tried to be the best Tim Cook I can be.”
And that’s exactly what he’s done.
(By Leander Kahney)
*Extract reprinted with the publisher’s permission