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

  7 Responses to “This Is Tim Cook’s Apple”

  1. Excellent post.

  2. Many thanks.

  3. Forgive yourself. Beats makes no sense on the surface, so there must be something deeper hidden. The fact that WWDC is in two days and we really have little idea what to expect shows that secrecy is being maintained effectively. There’s no reason to believe it doesn’t apply to Beats.

    My gut says that Apple is about to go very big and iTunes music needed to have its own steward, hence Iovine.
    It also says that the reduced price and delayed transfer of $400m was punishment for Dre’s loose lips, and incentive to get his act together.

  4. Another interesting trend taking place under Cook’s watch – his ability to hire CEOs away from their companies to come work for him at Apple. Angela Ahrends is the most obvious example here, and I’ve seen one or two other stories briefly mentioning another former CEO suddenly being found to work for Apple. Put in that context, the Beats deal looks a lot like an extension of this trend.

    Cook’s “democratization of success”, as you put it, probably plays a large part in him being able to attract these kinds of people to Apple.

  5. Buying Beats for Apple was about the most risky acquisition the company has made. Cook obviously thought it was worth the relatively small risk. I guess I would only be concerned if Apple started to mimic some of Microsoft’s gambling (pouring billions $$$$ into XBox, Nokia, Kin)* or something like Google’s questionable and horrendously expensive purchase of Motorola.

    From what I’ve seen of iOS 8’s new features and powerful architectural changes, I’m very impressed and, yes, even a little relieved. Sure, we’ll have to see how well it all works, but Apple really, really punched back this week.

    [* Don’t yell at me about the XBOX comment. I love the XBOX. Their games and supporting network magic have been amazing, but the hardware was soooo bad.]

  6. I am an owner of 2 Xbox (one of them unfortunately with Kinect) and I’m a big fan – you can see me pwn n00bs on Titanfall a couple days a week. Although these things may never be a financial success, developers have made it a perceptual success in spite of Microsoft’s efforts to screw it up on the hardware side.

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