business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Washington Post has a lovely interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook, who recently celebrated the sale of the company's billionth iPhone, and who next week will observe a more solemn occasion - the fifth anniversary of Steve Jobs's decision to step down as CEO and turn the reins over to Cook. Six weeks later, Jobs was dead, and Cook has presided over a time of tremendous growth for Apple ... though lately, the company seems to be creatively stagnant, and Apple has even seen two quarters of declining sales after 13 years of consistent growth.

Still, it has been an extraordinary time for Apple and Cook definitely has had a significant impact, "making it more systematic, more transparent, more team-oriented, more humble," the Post writes. "He has engaged on social issues more than most CEOs, writing op-eds on legislation that limits gay rights and making the extraordinary decision earlier this year to oppose the FBI’s request to unlock the San Bernardino killer’s phone.

"As CEO, he gets high marks for managing the company’s growth, keeping margins high and expanding further into markets such as China (Apple had four retail stores in China five years ago. Today it has 41.) He has pushed into the enterprise market, grown Apple’s product lineup and positioned Apple to make more money off the devices it’s already sold: Its services business, which includes things like iTunes, iCloud and a mobile payments service, is projected to be the size of a Fortune 100 business next year — all on its own. Apple remains the most valuable and most profitable company in the S&P 500 index."

The interview is definitely worth reading here ... but let me share with you two excerpts from the extensive interview.

Re: the CEO's job... "I think of a traditional CEO as being divorced from customers. A lot of consumer company CEOs — they’re not really interacting with consumers. I also think that the traditional CEO believes his or her job is the profit and loss, is the revenue statement, the income and expense, the balance sheet. Those are important, but I don’t think they’re all that’s important.

"There’s an incredible responsibility to the employees of the company, to the communities and the countries that the company operates in, to people who assemble its products, to developers, to the whole ecosystem of the company. And so I have a maybe nontraditional view there. I get criticized for it some, I recognize. But I’ve never wanted to be the stereotypical CEO. I don’t think I’d be very good at it, honestly. And I don’t think for Apple that would in the long run be good for the company. If you care about long-term shareholder return, all of these other things are really critical."

Re: the Apple Store leadership... "I hired the wrong person for retail [former Dixons CEO John Browett] initially. That was clearly a screw-up. I’m not saying anything bad about him. He didn’t fit here culturally is a good way to describe it. We all talked to him, and I made the final decision, and it was wrong. We fairly quickly recognized it and made a change. And I’m proud we did that.

"A lot of companies would have said, 'Oh, he hasn’t been here very long.' But when you’re looking at more time with [then] 50,000 people in retail — that’s a lot of people that you’re affecting in the wrong way. That was a mistake. I probably have a long list."

The interview, I think, offers some strong insights into the mind of one of the world's most visible CEOs, and worth checking out.
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