The History of the Man Set to Lead Apple

January 24, 2011

Tim Cook, the Apple chief operating officer who now serves as Steve Jobs’ stand-in during the CEO’s indefinite medical leave, has been working at Apple since the late 1990s. Jobs hired Cook shortly after Jobs returned as then-interim CEO.

But in a profile of Cook written by Gawker’s Ryan Tate, there’s a tidbit that should be of interest to you: Cook’s place of employment before Apple was Compaq. Yes, this information appears in Cook’s bio on Apple’s site, and in his Wikipedia entry.

Bob Stearns, who was chief technical and strategy officer for Compaq at the time, described Cook as “not very senior or visible”. He was “the guy who got laptops out of development and successfully into the manufacturing environment,” Stearns said.

Specifically, Cook’s job was vice president of Corporate Materials, which means he was involved in manufacturing and supply chain management at Compaq. In the late 1990s, Compaq was locked in a fierce duel with Dell, which had pioneered selling computers directly to customers. Compaq was still largely reliant on resellers, and was struggling then to convert to a more direct business model. Cook would have been part of executing that effort.

The Gawker profile gives an interesting account of how Cook was hired:

Cook joined Apple in 1998, shortly after Jobs’ return to the company, after withstanding Jobs’ withering interview gauntlet. Jobs had rejected a string of other operations managers before meeting with Cook. In fact, one other executive from Cook’s old company, Compaq, reportedly lasted only five minutes before Jobs walked out on him. Cook’s “unflappable” demeanor may have been what sealed the deal with Jobs. “Steve is very focused on people he can connect to emotionally,” a recruiter present at the meeting later said.

This apparently comes from a Wall Street Journal profile by Nick Wingfield, which provides more details, courtesy of John Devine, the executive recruiter who brought Cook to Jobs.

Cook, also a Compaq executive at the time, was a better fit. When Devine was on his way to the airport to pick Cook up, he says he got a call from Jobs, who peppered him with questions about Cook’s interests and personality. Devine told Jobs Cook was an avid cyclist. “I said, I think you’re going to like him,” he recalls.

Devine drove Cook to an office near the Palo Alto, Calif., home of Jobs, where the Apple executive sometimes takes meetings when he’s not at the company’s headquarters. Devine sat listening to their conversation from another room as the two chatted. He sensed that Cook’s cool, unflappable demeanor impressed Jobs, who is more exuberant by nature.

Jobs apparently had to sell Cook on leaving Compaq, which was the No. 1 computer maker at the time. And as we know, Jobs is one of the best salesmen in the world. One only has to look at the near iconic status he has achieved. Needless to say, Cook left Compaq after only six months.

Now, here’s a question: Who was the other executive who applied for the position Cook eventually won, the one Jobs walked out on? The Wingfield piece provides more information about him:

. . . Devine recalls Jobs getting up and walking out on one candidate – a hapless, hirsute executive from Compaq Computer – five minutes into the interview.

“The guy had a beard and collected barber chairs,” says Devine. “Steve is very focused on people he can connect to emotionally.”

Cook is the one who will be leading Apple as they move forward. Should we expect a difference in Apple’s operations or products? I would say that perhaps we can. We may potentially see different tiers of IPhones going forward, and maybe even more mid-range Macs as Apple seeks to offset its higher end offerings with more reasonably priced derivatives to appeal to a wider and ever expanding market.

What do you think? Will Apple change? Will Apple lose its mystique? Only time will tell. Hit us up in the comments with your ideas!

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