News / Economy

At Apple, Tim Cook Leads Quiet Cultural Revolution

FILE - Apple CEO Tim Cook in May, 2013.
FILE - Apple CEO Tim Cook in May, 2013.
Reuters
Shortly after signing on as chief operating officer at Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg was looking to connect with people in a similar role - No. 2 to a brilliant and passionate young founder. She called Tim Cook.
 
"He basically explained nicely that my job was to do the things that Mark [Zuckerberg] did not want to focus on as much,'' Sandberg said of the 2007 meeting that lasted several hours with the chief operating officer of Apple Inc. "That was his job with Steve (Jobs). And he explained that the job would change over time and I should be prepared for that.''
 
While Sandberg has enjoyed a steady run at Facebook, it is Cook's job that has changed radically since then. Now, the man who was handed one of the more daunting tasks in business - filling the shoes of the late Steve Jobs and keeping Apple on top - may himself need a spot of advice.
 
Two years into Cook's tenure, Apple is expected to unveil a redesigned iPhone next month. It will be a key moment for Cook. The company he inherited has become a very different creature: a mature corporate behemoth rather than a scrappy industry pioneer, with its share price down 5 percent this year, despite a recent rally. The S&P 500 is up about 15 percent this year.
 
A transition was, perhaps, inevitable after an astonishing five-year run in which Apple's headcount tripled, its revenues rose over six-fold, its profits grew 12-fold, and its stock price jumped from $150 to a peak of $705 last fall.
 
But it's been painful for some.

It is unclear whether the spread-sheeting-loving, consensus-oriented, even-keeled Cook can successfully reshape the cult-like culture that Jobs built. Though Cook has deftly managed the iPhone and iPad product lines, which continue to deliver enormous profits, Apple has yet to launch a major new product under Cook; talk of watches and televisions remains just that.
 
Some worry that Cook's changes to the culture have doused the fire - and perhaps the fear - that drove employees to try to achieve the impossible.
 
Can nice guys finish first?
 
Cook is known as a workaholic who guards his privacy closely. People who know him well paint a portrait of a thoughtful, data-driven executive who knows how to listen and who can be charming and funny in small group settings.
 
Lisa Cooper, who went to high school with Cook in Robertsville, Alabama, and remains a friend, still laughs at memories of Cook staging prank photos for the school yearbook and crooning "The Way We Were'' to her in class.
 
In the day to day at Apple, Cook has established a methodical, no-nonsense style, one that's as different as could be from that of his predecessor.
 
Jobs' bi-monthly iPhone software meeting, in which he would go through every planned feature of the company's flagship product, is gone.
 
"That's not Tim's style at all,'' said one person familiar with those meetings. "He delegates.''
 
Still, he has a tough side. In meetings, Cook is so calm as to be nearly unreadable, sitting silently with hands clasped in front of himself. Any change in the constant rocking of his chair is one sign subordinates look for: when he simply listens, they're heartened if there is no change in the pace of his rocking.
 
"He could skewer you with a sentence,'' the person said. "He would say something along the lines of 'I don't think that's good enough' and that would be the end of it and you would just want to crawl into a hole and die.'' Apple declined to comment on Cook or the company for this article.
 
Cook's fans say that his methodical manner doesn't get in the way of decisive action. They point to the Apple Maps fiasco, in which Apple replaced Google's mapping product with its own on the iPhone and it quickly became clear that Apple's maps were not ready for prime time.
 
Apple initially downplayed the glitches by saying Maps was a "major initiative'' and they were "just getting started.'' But behind the scenes, Cook bypassed Scott Forstall, the mobile software chief (and Jobs favorite) who was responsible for maps, and tasked internet services honcho Eddy Cue with figuring out what exactly happened and what should be done.
 
Cook had a lot of questions, and the episode also prompted him to fast-track his thinking on the future direction of the critical phone and tablet software known as iOS, a person close to Apple recounted.
 
Cook soon issued a public apology to customers, fired Forstall, and handed responsibility for software design to Jony Ive, a Jobs soul-mate who had previously been in charge only of hardware design.
 
"The vision that Tim had to involve Jony and to essentially connect two very, very important Apple initiatives or areas of focus - that was a big decision on Tim's part and he made it independently and very, very resolutely,'' said Bob Iger, CEO of Walt Disney Co. and an Apple director.
 
Still, employees report some grumbling, and Apple seems to have taken note, conducting a survey of morale in the critical hardware engineering unit earlier this year.
 
"As our business continues to grow and face new challenges, it becomes increasingly important to get feedback about your perceptions and experiences working in hardware engineering,'' Dan Riccio, Apple's senior vice president of Hardware Engineering, wrote to his team in February in an email seen by Reuters.

Some Silicon Valley recruiters and former Apple employees at rival companies say they are seeing more Apple resumes than ever before, especially from hardware engineers, though the depth and breadth of any brain-drain remains difficult to quantify, especially given the recent expansion in staff numbers.

"I am being inundated by LinkedIn messages and emails both by people who I never imagined would leave Apple and by people who have been at Apple for a year, and who joined expecting something different than what they encountered,'' said one recruiter with ties to Apple.
 
Still, the Cook regime is also seen as kinder and gentler, and that's been a welcome change for many.
 
"It is not as crazy as it used to be. It is not as draconian,'' said Beth Fox, a recruiting consultant and former Apple employee, adding that the people she knows are staying put. "They like Tim. They tend to err on the optimistic side.''
 
Social side
 
There does seem to be, under Cook, a new willingness to admit mistakes and a more open approach to problems such as poor working conditions at Chinese contract manufacturers.
 
"On the social side, the only way for Apple to make a difference in the world in a broad way is to be - I believe strongly - is to be totally transparent,'' Cook said earlier this year at what was, paradoxically, a closed-door talk at his business school reunion.
 
"When you do that, you make a decision to report the bad and the good, and we hope that by doing that, that it puts pressure on everyone else to join.''
 
Under pressure from investors, Cook not only agreed to share more of Apple's $150 billion cash hoard with shareholders, he voluntarily tied his own pay more closely to stock performance.
 
Yet critics wonder whether Cook's stated commitments to transparency and workers' rights really amount to much. Cook set up the global manufacturing system being criticized, and the company and its CEO remain highly secretive about matters large and small. Conditions at some Chinese factories have improved -Apple now tracks and reports hours of a million workers to avoid illegal overtime - but allegations of unfair working conditions continue to be made.
 
Apple has also come under scrutiny over its tax structure, under which it has kept billions of dollars in profits in Irish subsidiaries so as to pay little or no taxes. Cook defended the policy, which is legal, at a Congressional hearing in May.
 
Shareholders, meanwhile, are focused on the bottom line, and the next big product launch. A sharp drop in China revenue in April-June underscores the challenges Apple faces in its second-largest market as the technology gap with cheaper local rivals narrows and as Samsung Electronics keeps up a steady stream of new models across all price ranges.
 
Cook got a vote of confidence this month when activist investor Carl Icahn disclosed he had amassed a large position in Apple stock.
 
Bob Iger, the Apple director, said Cook had taken on "a very, very difficult role given the person that he's succeeded and the company he's running.''
 
"I think he's done so with a deft hand, a strong sense of himself,'' said Iger, who himself long toiled as the number two to a celebrated CEO, Michael Eisner. "With that comes a real self-honesty that he is who he is, and not what the world expects him to be, or what Steve was. And I like that.''
 

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8874
JPY
USD
120.83
GBP
USD
0.6497
CAD
USD
1.3271
INR
USD
66.162

Rates may not be current.