May 302014

So the other night I was pretty bummed about blowing the whole Beats acquisition thing. One of my good friends, @lophan, shot me a text to try and put it in perspective:

IMG_5178Slowly I realized: that was exactly it. Despite my disproportionately-high 4-letter word count, I do some serious legwork before releasing a post (spelling and grammar notwithstanding). Over the 5 years (!) I’ve been pushing this rock now, most of that time has been spent with Steve Jobs leading Apple, so I grew to look at the company the way Steve would. I make no claims about being able to channel the decision-making of the most influential tech CEO of all time, but the point is when you observe the world through a particular lens, sometimes when what you see isn’t what you expect, it might be time to change the lens. There’s a lot of anecdotal data about the kind of CEO Tim Cook is, and most of this data is qualitative and usually juxtaposed against “how Steve would do it.” Cook is accessible and level as a manager and steely and silent when faced with underperformance; Steve was mercurial 24/7. Cook is more responsive to media pressure than Jobs ever was. Cook made public some of Apple’s charitable endeavors, something Jobs would never do.

Now we know another major difference between the two: their attitude toward acquisitions.

Jobs was a legendary grass roots leader – his goal was to develop all the things that Apple did organically. I’m sure a large part of this was due to his history with “less than responsive” business partners like Microsoft and Adobe or companies that were have perceived to have slighted Apple – like Google. This complete control gave Jobs the advantage of having almost all of the user’s experience with Apple’s products succeed or fail because of what he could influence directly. It was also a decided advantage in leak control, lending that much more gravitas once the inevitable “one more thing” was announced.

Cook appears to have an opposite approach, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say I don’t mind it. He cited the 27 acquisitions Apple made in the last year when defending the Beats deal, which according to Wikipedia’s count, is about 50% of all the acquisitions Apple has made in its history. Whereas Jobs had a laser focus that allowed him to do everything within Apple, it appears as though Cook has a slightly wider focus that includes more acquired help. Jobs was (until shortly before his passing) always the one voice of Apple; Cook’s model gives as much if not more stage and press time to Schiller, Ive and Cue – and rising stars like Federighi. This democratization of success in an environment where every tech maker in the Valley is looking to snipe the hot company is much more healthy for Apple. Cook isn’t shy about cycling back and purging either – witness the Browett debacle or the Forstall ouster.

I’ve admitted I don’t understand the Beats deal, but I realize it may be because I was looking at it through a sentimentally clouded lens.

 Posted by at 2:27 pm
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