I traditionally dislike an article like this. It’s very speculative, and certainly sensational, but I’ve noticed a subtle shift in Apple since the departure of the late Steve Jobs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it’s a change nonetheless, which from the outside looking in, is an odd thing to see coming from Apple. […]
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My Thoughts Regarding the Shift in Leadership Style Under Tim Cook

tim_cook_headshot-150x171.jpgI traditionally dislike an article like this. It’s very speculative, and certainly sensational, but I’ve noticed a subtle shift in Apple since the departure of the late Steve Jobs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it’s a change nonetheless, which from the outside looking in, is an odd thing to see coming from Apple.

The first significant change I noticed came around the time of the iPhone 4S launch. The new, very capable CEO Tim Cook enacted a charity matching program, which means Apple will match employee donations to charity up to a certain amount. Jobs famously killed charity programs at Apple when he returned in the late 90s, due to the company’s poor condition. Even after the company began turning a nice profit, charity programs were never reenacted, leaving many scratching their head. When Cook took over, and with a massive stockpile of cash behind him, charity was now back on the table.

The next big thing I noticed, was the controlled press release of the OS X Mountain Lion preview. Traditionally, Apple unveiled new versions of their Mac OS at their annual WWDC convention or similar events. Since the release schedule didn’t fall in line with WWDC, Apple held a small event to unveil Lion in late 2010. Still a big deal right? Well, this year Apple announced that OS X will be on an annual release schedule and instead of holding a press event, they simply handed out developer previews to distinguished members of the press. This may just be due to current circumstances, and the fact that press events are precious commodities. After all, Apple had just held an event regarding textbooks, and they were planning an event to unveil the new iPad in a few months. Still, this was a departure from the norm, and it was under Tim Cook’s lead.

Next up was the announcement that Apple would begin a stock buyback and dividend program. Again, this was something that Jobs killed when he returned to Apple in the 90s in an effort to slow down the cash hemorrhage. It worked, but even as the company saw unprecedented success, this program was never reenacted. It seems that Jobs felt that Apple was better off keeping that cash on hand. Under Tim Cook this has changed, and just such a program will be enacted over the coming year. Even so, there is evidence that Apple’s cash pile will still continue to grow.

As the greatest departure from Jobs’ ways, Tim Cook recently visited Foxconn, Apple’s manufacturing partner, in an effort to stifle complaints over working conditions. I would wager, no matter how bad it got, Jobs would have never done such a thing. But with Cook’s more corporate background, he apparently felt it was the right thing to do in this situation. To me, this was the first firm evidence that a slightly new style was taking hold at the world’s largest company.

Lastly, Apple has released two new iPhone 4S commercials, one featuring Zooey Deschanel and another with Samuel L. Jackson, both as themselves. Granted, Apple ads have featured celebrities in the past, either doing voice overs as Jeff Goldblum did, or acting as John Hodgman and Justin Long did in the “Get a Mac” campaign, but never as themselves.

It’s worth pointing out the obvious that Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs, and isn’t expected to be. He does not have quite the same charisma that Jobs did. However, he does give off the sense that what you see is what you get, unlike Jobs’ charismatic performances. There is definitely a shift in personality at the leadership level. Al Gore, one of Apple’s board members sums it up best:

“It is difficult to imagine a harder challenge than following the legendary Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple. Yet Tim Cook, a soft-spoken, genuinely humble and quietly intense son of an Alabama shipyard worker and a homemaker, hasn’t missed a single beat.”

This is a change from Steve Jobs’ brash, sometimes overbearing, but always charismatic persona. Regardless, I believe Cook knows which fights to pick, and what his strengths are. I believe Apple is in capable hands.

These changes are not significant. But, when a company is moving as fast as Apple, a shift in a few degrees here and there can alter the course of the company. Again, I do not think these changes are necessarily a bad thing, but they are changes. And visible changes at that. I suppose that is the most jarring change- the fact that we are seeing change from the outside. Perhaps this sort of thing went on all the time at Apple. In fact, I would wager that it did. None of us heard about it the way we are under Tim Cook’s leadership.

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