Tim Cook has effectively been running Apple for over a year since Steve Jobs’ last leave of absence in January 2011. However, it has only been since the premature passing of Jobs that he has started to reshape Apple in his own image.
Cook recently addressed an audience at the Goldman Sachs Technology Conference and spoke of his commitment to maintaining the spirit and success of the company that Jobs built.
He said: “Apple is this unique culture and unique company. You can’t replicate it. I’m not going to witness or permit the slow undoing of it. I believe in it so deeply.”
Once upon a time, shareholders lived in fear of life after Jobs yet Cook has already taken Apple to new heights. Its last quarterly results were stellar with revenues and profits far, far above those previously reported. Recently, the Apple stock price sailed about $500 for the first time, valuing the company in excess of $450bn.
In the past few months he has delivered several hints about how he will remake Apple while remaining true to the core values of the company.
1. Charity begins at home
Apple was criticised for its lack of visible corporate contributions. After he returned to Apple as iCEO in 1997, Jobs made cuts across the business to stop the cash haemorrhage that was dragging it down. Corporate philanthropy schemes were among the victims of that cull.
Later, the company became the largest corporate contributor towards Bono’s Product RED project but Apple remained silent on corporate philanthropy. Bono defended Jobs against criticism of a lack of visible commitment, although the former CEO said he contributed to philanthropy privately.
One of the first commitments Cook made when he took over was to reintroduce Apple’s corporate philanthropy scheme. In September 2011 he announced a new scheme for matching charitable contributions made by Apple employees.
In an internal email to employees, he wrote: “When you give money to a non-profit 501(c)(3) organisation, Apple will match your gift dollar for dollar, up to $10,000 annually.”
2. Focus and transparency on employee welfare
Apple has taken a lot of flak over the conditions endured by workers in its supply chain. The focus of much of the criticism is the Foxconn factory in China.
Apple was previously public enemy number one for Greenpeace in its campaign to force technology manufacturers to use more environmentally friendly and recyclable materials in products. Apple’s record wasn’t good but others were far from exemplary. However, in targeting Apple, campaigners managed to get high-level traction with a prominent brand.
Likewise, Apple is not the only customer of Foxconn. The client list of the manufacturer includes the great and good of the technology world including Acer, Dell, HP, Nintendo, Nokia, Samsung, Sony and many others. Associating the deaths with Apple makes for stronger headlines but there is a collective responsibility.
Cook has moved swiftly to address the concerns the company has with reports of sub-standard working practices. Earlier in January, Cook unveiled greater transparency on supplier relations by publishing a code of conduct for suppliers on its website as well as by announcing a partnership with the Fair Labor Association to conduct voluntary audits of its suppliers’ plants, including Foxconn.
Apple may have been commissioning supplier reports for the past five years or so, but in the past month Cook has drawn attention to what he describes as a great concern for Apple and provided more transparency in the way Apple is dealing with the problem.
Apple ended up being one of the most environmentally-friendly technology manufacturers on the planet. If it follows through with the same commitment to supplier relations and worker conditions then, as an agenda-setter, others may follow suit. The reports may have been in existence since 2007 but Cook is actively shining a light on what he says is a profound concern for Apple.
3. Future products
Apple famously did not talk about future products or rumours. That position may be changing subtly. Jobs let the cat out of the bag in his biography by admitting Apple was looking at developing a TV. Rather than repeat the “we don’t comment on future products” line, Cook admitted there may be a grain of truth.
The official line is that Apple TV is still a “hobby”. Cook told the Goldman Sachs Technology Conference: “With Apple TV, despite the barriers in that market, for those of us who use it, we’ve always thought there was something there. If we kept following our intuition and kept pulling the string, we might find something that was larger.”
The CEO is doing little to dispel the rumours of a full Apple TV, then.
A more surprising development was the appearance of a number of tweets in my Twitter client from Apple news organisations and bloggers about OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion even before the page appeared on the Apple website.
It turns out Apple had invited a handful of journalists and bloggers to a private meeting with Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller and product executives to reveal Mountain Lion and hand out MacBook Airs with a developer install of the OS.
This approach contrasts starkly with the company’s tactics while Jobs was at the helm. The big reveal at events was the preferred approach for product announcements.
John Gruber of Daring Fireball was one of those invited to Apple to receive a private briefing with Apple. He describes the response from Schiller when asked why the reveal wasn’t made with an event and was told: “We’re starting to do some things differently.”
4. Recommitting to the Mac
The Mac has played second fiddle to the emerging iOS devices in the past five years. If you recall, the launch of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard was put back by months because the iPhone project appropriated key engineering resources.
The Mac was a footnote in the WWDC developer conference and there have been few Mac announcements in recent years. The update cycle for Mac OS X was more than 12 months. Predictions were even made about the end of desktop Mac line.
The new platform, iCloud, pays scant regard to the Mac and its legacy filing structure. The announcement of Mountain Lion changed that and took us all by surprise.
For those of us still devoted to the Mac, the affirmation of the platform’s importance was encouraging and satisfying. The redefinition of the Mac to a device rather than a platform was seen by some as a demotion in some camps, but really it was a rebirth.
However, with the surprise announcement of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, Apple committed to a new version of the operating system that would be updated on an annual basis. It would continue the theme of sharing the best features of the iOS devices and, most crucially, would solve some of the severe iCloud compatibility problems that Mac users have endured.
The Mac has a good future. Not parity with iOS, but certainly a higher profile. Things are looking good for the faithful.
5. Apple’s relationship with its shareholders
Apple is sitting atop a cash pile of just under $100bn yet it hasn’t paid a dividend to shareholders since 1995.
The company has made use of its massive cash pile, recently spending in excess of $8bn to secure a parts deal with suppliers presumably related to iPhone or iPad manufacturing.
Cook has previously said he is “not religious” about keeping hold of cash. At the Goldman Sachs conference he told attendees: “I’d be the first to admit that we have more cash than we need to run the business on a daily basis.
“I only ask for a bit of patience so we can do this in a deliberate way and make the best decision for the shareholders.”
Perhaps the company’s just waiting to pass the $100bn milestone first.
At the memorial event on the Apple campus, Cook revealed Jobs’ advice to him on succession.
He told the gathered Apple employees: “Among his last advice he had for me, and for all of you, was never to ask what he would do. ‘Just do what’s right,’ he said.”
Jobs said he saw Disney paralysed after its own iconic founder passed away: “Everyone spent all their time thinking and talking about what Walt would do.”
It looks like Cook has taken that advice on board.