Fortune's Adam Lashinsky has written a fascinating article on Tim Cook, the quiet Apple's Chief Operating Office unknown by most of the public, but a key member of the Dream Team that helped Steve Jobs to turn the company around during its dark ages. Why now? I can't help to think that this is related to Steve Jobs' potential farewell and Apple's future transition of power. But while that's probably my tinfoil hat in action, Lashinsky asks himself the same question I did: Can Cook become Apple's CEO? Reading the events and third-party comments portrayed in his article, it feels like this may very well be the case.
Even while he recently declared that "[Steve]is irreplaceable" and that he saw "Steve there with grey hair in his 70s, long after I'm retired", Cook has been showing more at Apple events recently. He is right that Steve Jobs is irreplaceable: Nobody can match his charisma and vision in the industry, as he has demonstrated again and again during this years. But Cook has other qualities that match those of Jobs. And coupled with abilities of the rest of the Dream Team (Ive, Schiller, Serlet, Johnson et al), he may well the best guy to get into the iCEO's chair as Steve takes a more laid back role in the company.
• Like Jobs, Cook is extremely demanding and passionate about work and doing things right. In a meeting back in 1998, when he arrived to Apple, he had a meeting about a problem in manufacturing in China. He suggested that someone should be there "driving this". Thirty minutes later into the meeting, he looked at one of his lieutenant and asked him emotionless: "Why are you still here?"
• He is an extremely hard worker and is devoted to Apple, coming earlier and going out later than anyone else. Reportedly, he "genuinely" loves the company.
• He has run much of the company for years and has been responsible for making everything run like clockwork. Because of this, and the things above, Cook is the highest paid person at Apple and is the only management team member—apart from Jobs—who's actually a board director at another company: Nike.
• As a result of that, and having to work with development, design, manufacturing, and distribution, he knows the company inside and out.
• While he's quiet and calm, he can push people to the limit much like Steve Jobs does. According to a former executive, he asks very difficult questions, ones that he knows people can't answer, and keeps pushing until he gets where he wants.
• Like Jobs, he has also looked at death in the eye: He was diagnosed multiple sclerosis in 1996, two years before coming to Apple. Fortunately, it was an error, but it left him with a different perspective on the world.
• He's also a minimalist, an eternal bachelor who doesn't flash his great fortune—living in a rented house in Palo Alto even while he has sold $100 million of Apple stock over the last years, and dedicating himself to sports and nature in his free time.
One of the most telling things about Cook, however, is his devotion for Bobby Kennedy. According to Lashinsky:
"He had a way of touching and relating to people of all walks of life," Cook confided recently, according to someone who knows him well. "He was one of the people who got close enough to the presidency who really loved people, who wanted to raise people up." Cook also admires the way Kennedy "was comfortable standing in his brother's shadow and doing what he thought was right." Coming from a man whose most critical career phase has been almost completely overshadowed by a charismatic leader with an uncommon ability to relate to the hopes and dreams of the masses, it's a telling comment.
Indeed, it is. Head to Fortune for the rest of Tim Cook's portrait. [Fortune]