CNN named Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Tim Cook as top CEO of 2014. Industry Focus analysts Sean O'Reilly and Nathan Hamilton discuss the reasons for the selection and how public perceptions of both Cook and his company have evolved in recent years.
It wasn't so long ago that Cook was considered "just a supply chain guy" and analysts questioned whether Apple was still capable of innovation. Hamilton discusses the roots of those misperceptions, and what may lie ahead for the tech giant in 2015.
A full transcript follows the video.
Sean O'Reilly: It's the first show of 2015, but we're talking about the top CEO of 2014. Why? We're really nostalgic. On this edition of Industry Focus.
Howdy everybody, I am Sean O'Reilly. Happy New Year! I'm sitting here with the one and only Nathan Hamilton. Looking good, Happy 2015.
Nathan Hamilton: Thank you. That was one of my favorite intros.
O'Reilly: Thank you! We're suckers for looking back at history, aren't we?
Hamilton: We are. It is very nostalgic.
O'Reilly: Yes, so let's go back to yesteryear. CNN ranked the top CEO of 2014. Who is it? Surprise me.
Hamilton: The one and only, not surprising, Tim Cook.
O'Reilly: I am not surprised.
Hamilton: Yes, I don't think most people are.
O'Reilly: Right. On the flipside, though, he did take over from one of the most iconic business leaders of the 20th and 21st centuries, so not an easy task.
Hamilton: Big shoes to fill.
O'Reilly: Right, very big shoes to fill. Tell us why.
Hamilton: We'll get into some of the details of why it makes sense and why it doesn't make sense, and what investors need to take away from it, but per CNN a lot of it comes down to just shareholder-friendly moves.
Apple stock is up approximately 40% in 2014. The company returned $45 billion in buybacks throughout the trailing quarters from September.
O'Reilly: That's definitely walking around money.
Hamilton: Yes. It's extremely shareholder-friendly, and CNN mentioned it specifically; part of the reason Tim Cook is the top CEO of 2014 is shareholders are doing well.
Now, I alluded to it at the beginning; what does it mean for investors? You have to look at it. There could be an amazing CEO running a company where stock has done terribly. If we go back to 2013 or 2012, a lot of people were pegging Tim Cook as "just a supply chain guy. He can't fill the shoes."
But I think we're seeing ... I don't know if it's Apple making the transition, but the perception of Apple making the transition beyond just Tim Cook being a supply chain guy to, "Apple's still innovative." But if you look at the company as a whole, it's always been innovative.
O'Reilly: Right. And this guy was hand-picked by Steve Jobs -- correct me if I'm wrong.
Hamilton: Oh, no doubt about it, yes.
O'Reilly: Okay. I do wonder if they would not have picked him, had Apple not had the ridiculous run over the past year. But I would have given him the award just for dealing with Carl Icahn!
Hamilton: I will make a prediction -- or a speculation. I don't think he would have been picked as top CEO if the stock hadn't performed like that.
O'Reilly: That's fair.
Hamilton: CNN mentioned it specifically. In the few CEOs they were considering, one was John Chen of BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY). Many people look at BlackBerry and you're like, "BlackBerry? What's he doing in there?" But the stock's up, simply, about 40% in 2014 so ...
O'Reilly: Yes and, arguably, who would want to take that job? You're captain of a sinking ship, potentially.
O'Reilly: What kind of milestones -- Steve Jobs was obviously famous for, I don't know, inventing the iPod. What did Mr. Cook do that warrants being Steve Jobs' successor?
Hamilton: I did play down the moves that Apple did make, but really the company hit some pretty big milestones. The company acquired 20 different companies in 2014. This was compared to 15 companies in 2013, one of the biggest being their largest acquisition ever; a few people have heard of Beats. It made a lot of headlines previously.
But if you look at it as well, I think there's really one telling aspect of what happened in 2014. I don't know if it's so much a milestone, but when Tim Cook sat down with Charlie Rose on "60 Minutes" and said, "We've got products that we're working on that haven't even been rumored about."
That's something pretty important to pay attention to, because everybody speculates about Apple. Everybody talks about ...
Hamilton: Exactly! Who knows what they can do?
The funny thing is, when you read a lot of articles or insights from sell-side research what to expect in 2015, the last thing they always end with is, "We don't know," or "It could be a product that Apple completely surprises us with," and Tim Cook mentioned this to Charlie Rose in the interview.
O'Reilly: That actually does make me wonder. Feel free to say, "I have no idea," but how long were they working on ... The iPhone is what percentage of the revenue? It's like half?
Hamilton: About 56%, approximately.
O'Reilly: How long were they working on that, before Steve Jobs made his little speech?
Hamilton: It's tough to say, but if you go back to the early 2000s, there are quotes. I haven't seen whether they're legitimate quotes or not, but Steve Jobs had mentioned things about cell phones that would allude to him not being a fan of cell phones on the whole.
O'Reilly: Of the way they work.
Hamilton: Yes. But that of course changed 2007-2008; that's when we saw the introduction of the original iPhone. You have to think that was probably a few years in the planning, maybe mid-2000s, but the exact timeline no one knows for sure.
O'Reilly: All right, don't worry.
As an Apple shareholder or a potential Apple shareholder, what can somebody take away from top CEO win, what it means for Apple, all that type of stuff?
Hamilton: Look at it this way. I think we could look at what it means for Apple and just investing as a whole. Apple has done a great job in 2014. Like I mentioned, a lot of different things; capital returns, good share price.
But you have to, a lot of times as an investor, separate the business from the stock because if we go back to 2012 and 2013 the perception was, "Tim Cook, not an innovative guy, supply chain guy." Now we look into 2014, everybody's like "This guy's amazing, CEO of the year."
What's changed in Apple's business?
O'Reilly: Absolutely nothing.
Hamilton: The perception of the company is what has changed.
If you look back to, say how to make investment decisions and so forth, you have to look beyond what either analysts are saying or the media's saying. Back two years ago or a year ago, you could have easily made some money on Apple by just saying, "Do I believe Apple is not innovative, like everyone else? Can Apple prove them wrong?"
If you look out a year or two; Apple Watch, Apple TV, different iPads, new iteration of the iPhone. If they can keep that moving along, it's a very good opportunity to make some money.
One important thing to look at as well, as I've mentioned people pegged Tim Cook as a supply chain guy. That's a good thing, because if we look at it, one of the big stories with Apple ...
O'Reilly: You kind of need the supply chain guy for the biggest company in the world!
Hamilton: No doubt about it! And with so many suppliers and the quick turnaround they have with developing a new iPhone every six months, or coming out with a new iPad all the time, or new products, you need to be a supply chain guy. But one of the big stories of 2014 was GT Advanced and the bankruptcy there.
O'Reilly: I don't mean to interject, but that actually makes me wonder.
If I'm Tim Cook and I'm sitting at a meeting and they're like, "Okay, we've got this iPhone 6 and we want to put in this Gorilla Glass, we want to put in new glass," sort of stuff, would he be the guy that immediately would be able to come up and be like, "Yeah, we probably can't get enough product to sell billions of these"? Why is that important?
Hamilton: He might have a good bead on, to tell what the process could be. I don't know the exact answer there but if you look at -- as a whole, the supply chain, and even looking at GT Advanced -- you need these guys in there to manage the process.
GT Advanced went bankrupt. Apple had some very favorable areas of the contract, which worked out well for them. With the turnaround time they have and the technological advantages that they put in every phone, you really need to have good supplier relations. If you look at Apple, they've got very solid supplier relations.
One other thing, getting back to innovation and acquisitions; the perception is, Apple is innovative. No doubt about it. But it's not all just Apple.
For example, Apple acquired a company called SnappyLabs in early 2014. What the company does is run a JPEG image engine that works on ARM processors, which is Apple's A9 chip. What it allowed the iPhone to do is essentially shoot at 20 frames per second, whereas some of the better technology, like in the Samsung S4, runs at 7.5 frames per second.
A lot of people look at it and would be like, "Oh god, Apple's so innovative. How did they get such a nice camera?" They went out and acquired somebody.
O'Reilly: They went out and bought somebody, yes.
Hamilton: You really have to look at, where does the innovation come from? It's absolutely fine to go out and buy companies, but look at it as a whole. Apple is pretty innovative, but where does it really come from? Is it built into the culture or are they acquiring companies?
O'Reilly: Cool. Very, very good. Looking forward, it's the new year. Is Apple going to $1,000? What's going on -- or $150/200, pre-split?
Hamilton: Let's speculate a little bit and see what's out there.
O'Reilly: What was it, Carl Icahn was like, "Oh yeah, Apple's worth $200." My gosh, trillion-dollar market cap? I don't know.
Hamilton: You know, it very well could be.
O'Reilly: Yes. Actually, my buddy and I were talking and I was like, "I put Apple in one of the three companies that I'd pick to be the first trillion-dollar company."
O'Reilly: It's them, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL), or ... I don't know.
Hamilton: I fully expect it can happen eventually. We know that. When the actual timeframe will be -- 5, 10 years, sooner -- who knows for sure?
Things to look at in 2015; of course, the Apple Watch is going to be something important. If history is any sort of sign, for the most part estimates for unit sales for Apple have been pretty conservative, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see units and even ASPs for the Apple Watch to perform very well -- average selling prices.
In terms of new products, an iPad Pro -- a larger screen iPad ...
O'Reilly: Mr. Cook, I believe, uses an iPad all the time. He says we should all do it -- of course he would.
Hamilton: Yes, of course he does, and Satya Nadella uses a Surface Pro 2.
Hamilton: Yes, Apple Watch, the iPad Pro. You've also got to look at the IBM (NYSE: IBM) partnership. This was a big deal in 2014, has started to bear some fruit recently. We've seen some stores with different apps coming out, but we'll see how that evolves into 2015.
Also, one of the important aspects; how does Apple's ecosystem expand? You've got the Apple Watch, of course. That relates to health. You've also got the home and so forth. All of these are different ways to keep users in the Apple ecosystem.
O'Reilly: Awesome. And of course Apple TV.
Hamilton: Perhaps Apple TV. Have we seen the last iPad Mini? Don't know yet, but the last iteration really all they did was update it.
O'Reilly: I would argue that the iPad Mini is the 6 Plus.
Hamilton: Well, the 6 Plus is selling very well, and it actually has a pretty good gross margin profile.
O'Reilly: I saw it. I'm like, "Oh, this thing's huge," but everybody I talk to said they like it a lot. They like reading stuff on it, which is of course the purpose.
Hamilton: Yes. From the estimates we've seen, a lot of the forecasts and so forth, it seems to be selling pretty well; I think better than most people expect, but that relates to the Apple Watch.
When Apple comes out with something new, a lot of analysts or a lot of industry followers tend to underestimate the potential because it's a new product. People don't know how to -- not so much value it -- but how to understand the potential market impact of it. So, it very well could be the case.
O'Reilly: Very good. That's it for us, listeners. I can't wait to see what Apple comes out with in the rest of the year. Thanks for listening, and Fool on!
Nathan Hamilton owns shares of Apple and Google (A shares). Sean O'Reilly has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and International Business Machines. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.