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Why Steve Jobs Can Rest Easy

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If you've read Walter Isaacson's biography of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) co-founder Steve Jobs, you know he had a profound respect for current CEO Tim Cook. You also know that he never considered Cook a "product person."

Whereas Jobs and Apple design chief Jony Ive were what Isaacson described as soulmates in the quest to create perfect products, Cook was a calming force who oversaw vast improvements in day-to-day operations. The yin to Jobs' yang, you might say.

But now Jobs is gone. Is Cook's genius for executing on a big vision enough to take Apple to the next level? We've been asking this question, nervously, for months. Now it appears our fears were unjustified.

Every bit as good as the original
According to new data from employee-satisfaction researcher Glassdoor, Cook has a 97% approval rating among the rank and file. Jobs' last rating -- during what some might say covers the apex of the Jobs era -- was 95%. Some of the employee comments cited in the Glassdoor report:

  • "Great company with great leaders ... The products speak for themselves and the company," one software engineer wrote in October.
  • "I think leadership is doing an amazing job," a former employee wrote in December. "We have the best management team anywhere."
  • "Tim and the [executive team] are doing great job. Keep up the good work," another current employee wrote about a week ago.

Notice how every one of those comments was left long after Jobs resigned as CEO in August 2011. Taking that as an indictment of his management style is probably going too far. Yet as Isaacson makes clear in his book, there are sharp differences between the two Apple CEOs.

To Jobs, products were either great or awful. So were employees, partners, and competitors. Cook's polished demeanor stands in contrast, but workers are just as appreciative of his efforts. And not just Cook; the comments at Glassdoor reveal an appreciation for the entire executive team.

Employees are confident in Ive's ability to imagine great products. They're confident in Eddy Cue's ability to broker smart content deals for Apple's digital stores. They're confident in Scott Forstall's ability to shepherd iOS. And they believe Phil Schiller will preserve Apple's sharp-edged product marketing.

What to expect now
And if they're right? Then there's every reason to believe the company will perform as it has for much of the Jobs era. Specifically, I'm talking about the type of performance that could drive the stock to $1,650 a share by 2015, if you believe the most optimistic estimates.

On a product basis, this means we should expect Cook and his team to:

  • Focus. According to Isaacson, Jobs could overcome most obstacles by focusing intently on outcomes and seeing the work through. For example, he spent years signing labels and artists to fill out the iTunes Store. Apple's lead in music downloads got so big that Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Zune failed even before it had a chance to thrive. Cook, Ive, and team come off just as determined to dominate the market for tablets.
  • Attack. Apple's institutional memory includes long years in the wilderness, badly trailing competitors whose products Jobs thought to be inferior. Those days are long gone now, but thanks to Isaacson, we know the pain never fully went away. Jobs' competitive spirit burned bright as a result. Today's target: Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and Android, which Jobs saw as a ripoff of the iPhone.
  • Think broadly. Once Jobs had settled on an idea, he pursued it with gusto, but to read Isaacson's book is to learn that he also had a love of tooling around with new ideas, spending a part of each day with Ive batting around "dopey" schemes. Cook is too smart to get in the way of a creative process that's worked so well for so many years.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that Cook is just a stand-in. All signs point to the contrary, and appropriately so. In his last days, Jobs told him not to ask "what would Steve do?" but to instead focus on what's right for Apple.

A rebel all his life, Jobs would hate to see his company regress into following some imagined script he'd authored while inhabiting the CEO's chair in Cupertino. Cook won't let that happen. He already broke tradition earlier this month with a plan to spend $45 billion of Apple's treasure on dividend payments and a stock buyback.

Perhaps that's why employees love him. Not for the cash, per se, but because in paying the dividend that Jobs wouldn't, Cook -- product person or not -- has proved himself to be every bit the rebel his predecessor was.

Think I'm wrong? Go ahead and tell me so using the comments box underneath. Or if you'd rather spend more time investigating the mobile computing mania that's making billions for Apple, download this new Motley Fool special report: "The Next Trillion Dollar Revolution." The research is free, but only for a limited time. Get your copy now.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's Web home, portfolio holdings, and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google and creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (24)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 31, 2012, at 2:44 PM, henrystar wrote:

    Actually, I think you are right.

  • Report this Comment On March 31, 2012, at 4:06 PM, irast wrote:

    I am very long Apple, and have a very disproportionate portfolio amount in the stock. That said, the one fear I had was the passing of a great visionary like Steve Jobs. While he can never be replaced, and will hold a very special place in the history of business, the team he left behind has indeed proven they can continue to perform and deliver in the same manner as he did. If you believed that his "bench" wasn't very deep, you were very wrong. Cook is exemplary, Ive a master, Shiller superb, and the rest of the team second to none.

    I have no doubt, Apple will continue to surprise the naysayers and will not disappoint in delivering on what Steve Jobs built over the past decade. These are not comments of a "fan-boy" but rather as an engineer myself, who sees Apple products for what they are, how they have been conceived, and how they have been executed. Say what you will, but Apple is an amazing company that has truly transformed many consumer markets.

  • Report this Comment On March 31, 2012, at 4:29 PM, alexkhan2000 wrote:

    Tim Cook is the perfect CEO for Apple's post-Jobs era. He's probably the best CEO in the world already. It just shows the depth of managerial talent that Jobs assembled around him. Virtually all the members in the senior executive team have been with Apple and Jobs for over a decade. There's strong continuity here.

    At the same time, TC is his own man and simply doing what's best for Apple. He's more measured, analytical, and pragmatic than Jobs. With Apple fast approaching $200 billion in annual revenues, Apple needs someone like that to live up to the responsibilities of running such a huge and valuable organization.

    As TC said, I also believe that Apple's very best days are ahead of it. Apple is only scratching the surface of developing markets like China, India and Brazil. Apple's global market share for phones and PC's is still very low with plenty of room for growth. There's the TV market. Further ahead it may be autos or even the energy sector that may be ripe for disruption.

    People keep underestimating what Apple can still accomplish in the future. It'll be their loss.

  • Report this Comment On March 31, 2012, at 6:20 PM, applefan1 wrote:

    What cracks me up is that a lot of Apple's products are not Steve Jobs' ideas, he might have been a decision maker, but he's made mistakes along the way, no one is perfect. But they had a lot of people working FOR Apple or various Apple customers that would present ideas in various ways and they took what they thought are the best ideas and designed the best products and since Apple takes more ownership of their entire ecosystem (OS, Hardware, chip design, app design, etc.) they can develop and execute a better eco system. Their competitors are just trying to go after small portions of the ecosystem, but can't go after the entire ecosystem, without having control over the entire ecosystem is where Apple's competitors are weak and that's why they fail. The competitors are following Apple and trying to play technology leapfrog, but they lost sight on creating a better ecosystem as a whole. If Gartner did a quadrant study of the entire ecosystem of laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets, portable media devices (ipods), app store, content store, customer service, customer support, retail stores, etc.,etc. Apple would be by themselves in the upper right hand quadrant. Leader in technology and ability to execute. The others would be in the bottom left hand corner at whatever level they achieve. That's how I view Apple vs their various competitors. Steve was the visionary of that concept, but it was a combination of a lot of great ideas and people to put it together and they stumble around, but things are getting resolved and hopefully they will learn to improve from revision to revision, from product to product. The real innovations are going to come from product design and mfg as things progress. They probably have to come out with another product to go after the SmartTV market which is logical for them, but I don't think Apple will go after the audio playback portion (DACs, Amps, Speakers, etc.) They are just going after the audio/video source market, so instead of buying CD, DVD, BluRay players, they just simply offer digital copies and their computers are essentially becoming SmartMedia Servers/Players from small portable devices, to laptop and desktop SmartMedia Servers/Players. The next big market for them is developing the SmartCar, which they are in development at some level. I almost don't see why Automakers aren't just building in an iPad as their Navigation Control system instead of their own. It would actually be cheaper if they bought the guts of an iPad installed the cell phone chip and then had it connected to the entertainment system, the internet, etc. Microsoft is trying to do this, but Microsoft doesn't make iPads. They just do the software.

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