Tim Cook had his work cut out for him when he was named CEO of Apple, Inc. by his predecessor, Steve Jobs, the champion of Silicon Valley, whose very shadow he was challenged to outshine.
Granted, he was thrust into a position that would have been hard for any mere mortal to fill. To compensate the void left behind by such a legend is a daunting assignment that few, if any, are qualified and capable of accomplishing.
This was a man who had quite literally built one of the most powerful companies in the world from scratch, who surrounded himself with some of the industry’s greatest talents to create a line of ground-breaking, über-successful consumer products. This was the man that made the iPod possible, then iTunes, the iMac, iPhone and iPad — things that much of the world now seem to be unable to live without. And let’s not forget PIXAR.
Yet although his resume was unparalleled, what separated Steve Jobs as a leader was not merely the magnitude of his accomplishments but also the pure ferocity of his character.
Under his reign, Apple and its products displayed an obsessive emphasis on beautiful design, seamless functionality and visionary market appeal that directly mirrored the qualities of its founder. Steve was famous for his passionate, emotion-driven style, unafraid to lash out at his employees for subpar work, demanding nothing short of perfection. And under his giant personality, Apple transformed, overpassing corporate mammoths like Google and Microsoft to eventually become the most valuable company in the world. To put it plainly/, Apple was Steve Jobs. And with Steve gone, Apple will forever be missing what it needs most — the man that gave it its identity.
One could make the valid argument that although Steve’s particular style of leadership worked for Apple, it does not mean that others cannot. And while this may be true, it is clear that Tim Cook, during the course of his short and unimpressive tenure as the new CEO of Apple, is not an example of someone who can.
Under Steve Jobs, the company was molded, sometimes forcefully, into a sterling model in the corporate world. Its products were perfect — aesthetically and functionally beautiful, refined and most importantly, distinguishing. The products spoke for themselves, and with every new line of breakthrough devices — whether it was the iPod, iMac, or the iPad — Apple kept itself far ahead of its competition, leaving the rest of the world in its wake as it continued to create and dominate new markets that did not exist before. “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” he explained. And with such a mentality, Apple famously branded itself as a company that designed products that customers did not know they wanted yet. As Steve put it best, “you can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give it to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
Recently, however, this attitude appears to play a smaller role in the machine of Apple Incorporated. The company has been in a standstill, possibly even a decline, as the rest of the world has begun to catch up. Devices such as the Samsung Galaxy SIII are beginning to rival the dominance of the iPhone. With the functional catastrophe that is the new iTunes and the negative buzz surrounding the Maps app, the institution that was once the “yardstick of quality” now looks to have lost its knack for perfection. AAPL stocks have steadily declined since the passing of Steve Jobs and Tim Cook is looking more and more to be the visionless, robotic CEO that some feared he would be, which was never more evident when he passed on all design responsibilities to design god, Jonathan Ive.
Cook has done a commendable job dealing with the financial aftershock of his predecessor’s death. He has kept losses below sub-crisis levels and for someone in his difficult position, deserves respect for keeping his character. He is also a renowned genius in operational management and for that, he was a well-deserved runner-up for TIME magazine’s Person of the Year award.
However, Apple is a far different beast than that of other companies. As a pioneer of the electronic and consumer world, it needs not only to be routinely groomed but also creatively and motivationally fed. It is desperately in need of a visionary, not an organizer.
It needs a Steve Jobs.
Ben Hong is a third-year bio/pre-med major. He can be reached at email@example.com.