Since Tim Cook became CEO of Apple, he’s worked to cement his own legacy — but he still admires his predecessor Steve Jobs’ leadership style.
“I knew I couldn’t be Steve [when I became CEO],” Cook, 62, told GQ on Monday. “I don’t think anybody could be Steve. I think he was a once-in-a-hundred-years kind of individual, an original by any stretch of the imagination. And so what I had to do was to be the best version of myself.”
But that doesn’t mean Cook couldn’t take a leadership trick or two from Jobs’ book. In particular, Cook said he admired how Jobs held everyone at Apple to the same standard of creativity and boundary pushing — no matter whether they worked in engineering, marketing or any other department.
“One of the things I loved about him was he didn’t expect innovation out of just one group in the company or creativity out of one group,” Cook said. “He expected it everywhere in the company.”
Cook experienced it firsthand. Before taking Apple’s reins as CEO in 2011, he was the company’s chief operating officer, overseeing the company’s worldwide sales and operations. And in that role, he was expected to be inventive.
“When we were running operations, we tried to be innovative in operations and creative in operations, just like we were creative elsewhere,” Cook said. “We fundamentally had to be in order to build the products that we were designing.”
The concept helped Cook win over naysayers after he became CEO, some of whom said he wasn’t enough of a “product guy” to fill Jobs’ shoes.
Under his leadership, Apple has grown into a multitrillion-dollar company. Cook oversaw the launch of Airpods, Apple Watch and the M1 processor, a next-generation chip now found in most of the company’s newer products.
Apple has also expanded its service-based offerings — most prominently including Apple TV+, its subscription media streaming platform.
Cook couldn’t have spearheaded any of those initiatives without learning from Jobs first, he said at Vox Media’s 2022 Code Conference in Los Angeles: “He was the best teacher I ever had, by far. Those teachings live on, not just in me, in a whole bunch of people who are [at Apple].”
Today, the Apple CEO still uses some of Jobs’ old traditions, like 9 a.m. meetings every Monday, he told GQ. But it’s not out of nostalgia, he added.
“We don’t really look back very much at all in history,” Cook said. “We’re always focused on the future and trying to feel like that we’re very much sort of at that starting line where you can really dream and have big ideas that are not constrained by the past in some kind of way.”
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