CEO Tim Cook has officially held the reins for nearly three
years. His interim assignment quickly escalated into an official
role in tandem with Steve Jobs' deteriorating condition,
eventually culminating in Cook being named CEO on Aug. 24,
While three years is a rather short period to issue broad
judgments of corporate executives, especially at a company as
large as Apple, it's an apt time to evaluate Cook's progress thus
far. And for comparison, there are two former Apple CEOs who come
to mind: Steve Jobs and John Sculley. The former is considered
one of the best businessmen ever, and the latter has a place
among the worst CEOs in American history.
Perhaps you're not the next Steve Jobs, and that's ok.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
A tale of two CEOs
John Sculley has a special place among Apple fandom - and it
isn't a good place. Many among the Apple faithful consider
Sculley something of a modern-day Judas Iscariot. He was lured
by none other than Jobs with the best closing line ever: "Do you
want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you
want to change the world?"
In return, John Sculley led a boardroom coup that resulted in
Jobs -- a founder -- losing significant leadership
responsibilities and eventually leaving the company.
Jobs, on the other hand, is considered a modern-day hero among
the Apple faithful. And it's for good reason. He returned to
Apple to find the company in tatters - essentially a rudderless
ship, post-iceberg collision. He quickly focused the company, and
through sheer will -- and a popular iMac -- swung Apple back to
profitability and firmer footing. What followed was one of the
greatest company runs of the last 100 years.
But while it's easy and somewhat predictable to fall into
broad characterizations -- Jobs never did anything wrong, and
Sculley was a total disaster -- it simply isn't true.
In defense of John Sculley
It is a common misconception that Apple started falling off the
rails the moment Jobs hit the road. That isn't true. Matter of
fact, the company began somewhat of a short-lived renaissance in
his absence, growing revenue nearly 19.5% per year after Jobs'
dismissal and before Sculley left. One of Jobs' last
post-departure products was the Apple Lisa, a clunky and
expensive PC that's widely considered a commercial failure.
Although he left the project early, the product would bear the
name of his daughter -- and not by coincidence. In addition, many
colleagues and coworkers reported that Jobs' behavior had become
more erratic by the day.
John Sculley, you certainly don't look like Darth Vader.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
And that was what Sculley was hired for. It was commonly known
that Jobs was in no condition to run a company. Notoriously
focused on products and downright hostile to anyone who
encroached upon his fiefdom, Jobs at the time lacked the skills
to run an organization. Those were lessons he would later learn
in his roles at NeXT and Pixar.
Many believed Jobs hired Sculley as merely a figurehead, a yes
man to acquiesce to Jobs' will. After Jobs' dismissal, Apple
needed a true CEO; Sculley, with all his faults -- bloated
advertising budgets, lack of technical skill, and the failed
Newton rollout -- did about as well as anybody could have
Jobs was a visionary
While much ink is spilled over Jobs' legendary return to Apple,
it is important to understand that Jobs also had two other
successful ventures in NeXT and Pixar. In addition to learning
valuable CEO skills, there is one binding thread in each of these
success stories: vision. Although Apple had previously
established relationships with students through its Apple
University Consortium, Jobs decided to make a unit dedicated to
education with NeXT.
Steve Jobs had his flaws too, but in the end that's what
made him brilliant. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Pixar was a long shot, a struggling computer company with an
interesting companion business: computer animation. In both
cases, Jobs was able to extract value and eventually sell the
companies -- Pixar to
The Walt Disney Company
and NeXT back to former employer Apple. Oh, Jobs went back to
Apple with the NeXT transaction, too.
Where does Tim Cook fit into this?
In many ways, Cook fits the John Sculley mold. Sculley, boasting
a Wharton MBA, was keenly aware of his responsibility to
shareholders. Many arguments between Jobs and Sculley centered
around providing value to shareholders; Jobs focused on the
customer experience and at times came across as indifferent to
shareholders. Cook has proven to be a shareholder advocate by
returning Apple's huge cash pile (both in share repurchases and
dividends), being more transparent in terms of communication, and
instituting a long-anticipated stock split.
Cook is widely considered to be more of a products guy than
Sculley, so it is safe to assume Apple won't revive the Newton
anytime soon. But Jobs' return to Apple was marked by one product
innovation after another -- the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
Although there is real speculation in regards to an upcoming
smart watch dubbed iTime, it is still merely a rumor.
In the end, it seems as if Tim Cook bears more similarities to
Apple's loathed former CEO John Sculley than beloved Steve Jobs.
But with such a strong brand and fan base, perhaps it needs less
of a visionary and more of a classic value-creating manager at
this time. Regardless of which former Apple leader he bears more
similarities to at present, it seems as if Tim Cook is the man
for the job.
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