The news that Steve Jobs was resigning his CEO post at Apple wasn’t entirely unexpected. The visionary executive has had a long fight with pancreatic cancer and has taken three major medical leaves since 2004.
The appointment of Tim Cook as Jobs’ hand-picked successor also did not come as much of a surprise. Cook has been groomed for the post for more than seven years, serving as CEO during Jobs’ first two medical leaves and again taking over the company’s day-to-day operations when Jobs took another leave of absence last January.
Still, the question remains: can anyone really fill Jobs’ shoes?
If anyone can, it’s Cook, says Current Analysis Research Director Avi Greengart.
“A lot of Apple’s success is around execution, sales, supply chain management—a lot of those things are Tim Cook’s doing and were even when Steve Jobs was running the show,” Greengart says.
Cook joined Apple in 1998 from computer maker Compaq and played a key role in restructuring the company’s manufacturing to lower costs and improve profits.
His push to assign manufacturing to outside companies by closing Apple’s own factories and warehouses overseas quickly earned him a reputation as an operational genius, and Cook is credited with the logistical successes in supply chain management and manufacturing that have helped Apple rise to the top.
Cook also has prior experience as Apple’s CEO. In addition to two prior stints in the role, he has served as Apple’s de-facto leader for the past several months as Jobs’ deteriorating health made it difficult for him to continue working.
Analysts are confident of Cook’s ability to execute in the short term. They believe that the company already has its product roadmap set for the next one to two years, and all that remains for Cook to do is execute.
However, things get a little trickier in the long term.
“The longer term issue is that one of the things Steve jobs has been absolutely brilliant at has been anticipating major shifts and positioning Apple to lead those shifts,” says Greengart. The question Greengart has is whether Cook will be able to have a similar forward-looking vision.
“In the post PC era, will Tim Cook’s Apple be as well positioned as Steve Jobs’ Apple has been in the past decade?” he asks. “I don’t think there’s anyone out there who wouldn’t prefer to have Steve Jobs making those decisions.”
Bluntly put, Cook lacks Jobs’ charisma.
“He’s not as dynamic a figure as Steve, as polarizing a figure as Steve, and he’s not going to get up on stage in a black turtleneck and have that aura around him,” says James Brehm, senior strategist and consultant with Compass Intelligence.
Still, Brehm believes Cook’s operational strengths will carry him through.
“He seems to be an incredibly astute business person who has been there to understand the culture Apple still has. I think it’s going to be a good transition,” he says.
Cook won’t be flying solo in his new role. He will have the backing of several long-term Apple executives who have all played key roles in the company’s success, and Jobs will still be there to weigh in from his post as chairman of Apple’s board of directors.
“Jobs’ vision for this company is going to be executed on for one to two years,” says ABI Research Analyst Kevin Burden. “Whatever comes after that is going to be the real test.”