Tim Cook, Apple, Fortune, and me by Adam Lashinsky @FortuneMagazine March 27, 2015, 8:02 AM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons As Tim Cook and I were riding back to 1 Infinite Loop a couple weeks ago after touring Apple’s new corporate campus on the east side of Interstate 280 in Cupertino, Calif., he asked me how long the article I was working on would take me to write. I smiled and said, “Well, first I’m going to tell you the truth, and then I’ll be more specific. The truth is that this article has taken me more than six years to write.” Cook laughed, and then I laughed. I was pleased he immediately got my perfectly purposeful joke. In many ways I truly have spent more than six years building up to the cover story that appears today in Fortune Magazine and on Fortune.com, naming Cook No. 1 on Fortune’s latest list of world’s greatest leaders. The phase of my career that has been dominated by coverage of Apple AAPL began in the fall of 2008 when I worked for weeks on what became a celebrated cover story about Tim Cook. Called “The Genius Behind Steve,” the article appeared at a time of great uncertainty about the health of Steve Jobs. At the time, Cook was almost completely unknown to the outside world. He already was running huge chunks of Apple’s business. But partly because of the Jobs persona and partly because Cook was the ultimate behind-the-scenes player, nobody knew who he was. My article began to chip away at that state of affairs, and I explained that not only was Cook a key player at Apple but that he very likely could be the CEO one day—a shocking assertion at the time. What’s more, I concluded that a Tim Cook-led Apple might not be such a bad thing: “As long as Jobs stays healthy, Cook won’t need to worry about personal visibility. He can just keep doing his thing, grinding away offstage. But if he does get tapped for the CEO job someday, Apple may not suffer from acute Stevelessness as much as the world seems to think.” Just two months later Jobs went out on another medical leave, and I followed up with feature that asked: “Steve’s leave: What does it really mean?” The article quoted management experts urging Apple to clarify who was in charge. Apple didn’t listen, and Jobs came back to work. In fact, he came back so strongly that in late 2009 Fortune named him its CEO of the decade. In that article, I counted up the industries Jobs had transformed. The setup for the story summarized his amazing run: “How’s this for a gripping corporate story line: Youthful founder gets booted from his company in the 1980s, returns in the 1990s, and in the following decade survives two brushes with death, one securities-law scandal, an also-ran product lineup, and his own often unpleasant demeanor to become the dominant personality in four distinct industries, a billionaire many times over, and CEO of the most valuable company in Silicon Valley.” By now Apple was my thing at Fortune, and with the encouragement of my editor, Andy Serwer, I kept going. I should point out that I wrote every one of the stories mentioned in this post—except for the one published today—without much cooperation from Apple. Apple had gone into a phase of not talking much to the media, mostly because of Jobs’s health but also because as the iPhone became such a transformational success Apple needed the media less and less. My next article on Apple, in mid-2011, changed my career. It was called “Inside Apple” and included many tidbits about the operations and culture at Apple that had never before been reported. The gist of the article was that although Steve Jobs was in fact a singular genius as a business leader, innovator, and product visionary, he also had created a company with a strong culture and highly developed and effective processes. The upshot of this was that Apple was more than one man; It was a great, great company. Six months after that article appeared Steve Jobs died, and three months after that, in January, 2012, I published a book, also called Inside Apple, that greatly expanded the magazine article. (It is still available at Amazon.com, bn.com, and, to my delight, at Apple’s iBooks bookstore. I took one swipe at explaining Tim Cook’s young reign as CEO at Apple less than a year into his tenure. By then the changes he was bringing already were apparent, but Cook wasn’t close to being ready to talk. What’s more, he and his company hadn’t proven anything yet, certainly not that Apple was in good hands without Jobs. That leads me to the article Cook and I discussed in the jeep on the way back to his office two weeks ago—which reveals, incidentally, how long it took to write this article, if not to report it. Please read it and tell me what you think. The big difference between reporting about a CEO from a distance and spending quality time with one is that in the latter situation the reader gets to hear the CEO’s voice a lot. Tim Cook has a lot to say in my article, about leadership, culture, criticism, social justice, and far more. I close the article by noting that he has plenty of work left to do at Apple. After more than six years of reporting closely on the company, I still feel like I have plenty more work to do about Apple. This article first appeared Thursday on the career-content Web site LinkedIn.