Usually, when a person is appointed a major company’s chief executive, he or she is overcome with joy. But five years ago, it’s hard to believe that was the emotion Tim Cook felt when he took Apple’s top job.
On August 24, 2011, Tim Cook officially became Apple’s CEO. While he had been working in the role on an interim basis while then-CEO Steve Jobs was fighting cancer, this time, it was real. In a statement that August day in 2011, Apple announced Jobs had submitted his resignation and immediately recommended that the board implement its succession plan to appoint Cook, who was then serving as the company’s COO, as permanent chief executive.
Less than two months later, Jobs, who was serving as Chairman of the Board at Apple (AAPL), passed after a long battle with cancer.
Soon after Cook took the chief executive role, speculation soared over how he might handle the new position and in which direction he might take Apple. Jobs, after all, was widely viewed as the luminary that helped the iPhone maker rise to prominence. Could Cook keep that banner flying?
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Now five years later, even Cook acknowledges that he’s made some mistakes along the way, recently pointing to Apple Maps, which Apple (AAPL) launched early on during his reign, as one of his biggest. The app was supposed to be the replacement for Google Maps (GOOG) on iPhones and iPads. Instead, it was a mess—and Cook apologized for it.
More recently, Cook has also presided over a difficult financial period for Apple. Earlier this year, Cook was at the helm when Apple, for the first time in company history, reported that iPhone sales were down year-over-year during its second fiscal quarter. The company’s worldwide revenue was also down. The same happened in its last-reported fiscal quarter.
Not surprisingly, investors grew worried over what the future might hold. The iPhone, after all, contributes the vast majority of Apple’s revenue. With iPad sales continuing to tumble, some have wondered whether an iPhone this year, which is expected to be a minor upgrade, could end the company’s slide.
Characteristically, Cook has remained calm in the face of growing concern. He has said that the iPhone is just fine and still is hugely profitable for his company. He’s even gone so far as to say that he believes the iPad has a strong future ahead of it, even if the tablet market is soft and sales are trailing off.
There have been some other low points during Cook’s five-year tenure as chief executive, such as the plastic iPhone 5C, which eventually flopped, and ongoing criticism over Apple Music and its design, which Apple hopes to address in iOS 10. Nevertheless, they’ve been few and far between.
The Tim Cook Difference
From a purely financial perspective, Cook has been an unbridled success since he took over.
During his first full fiscal year as Apple CEO, a 12-month period that ended September 29, 2012, Apple generated more than $156.5 billion in revenue and a $41.7 billion profit. During its last full fiscal year ended last September, Apple’s revenue has soared to $233.7 billion and its profits jumped to $53.4 billion. All the while, Apple’s cash coffers have only swelled.
Over the last five years, Cook has also been instrumental in growing the iPhone’s user base, thanks in no small part to offering big-screen iPhones, like the iPhone 6s Plus, which sports a 5.5-inch screen. He’s also found a way to enter the corporate world on the back of partnerships with IBM and Cisco, among others, and offer to the corporate world both iPhones and iPads with specialized applications. Historically, Apple, which before the iPhone was mostly equipped with Mac computers to target the business world, could do little to break into that market. That has changed under Cook.
Cook has also helped Apple push into new territories. He led Apple into the wearables market and quickly made the Apple Watch the world’s most successful wearable. With his $3 billion Beats acquisition, Cook is helping Apple transition from a company reliant upon music downloads to one that’s willing to take on the likes of Spotify in others in music streaming.
The result, thus far, has been major. Apple’s Services business, which includes Apple Music, is up considerably in the last year with no signs of slowing down.
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Privacy advocates have also argued that Cook is fighting the good fight. Earlier this year, after a a row with the FBI over turning over software that would help the agency unlock San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone, Cook stood his ground, denying the request and subsequent court order saying Apple should hand over such a tool. He posted an open letter supporting his company’s use of end-to-end encryption in its iMessage service, arguing that individual privacy was critical. Cook also said in subsequent conversations on the topic that he would’ve been willing to take his fight to the Supreme Court. The incident arguably propelled Cook to quickly become one of the most prominent privacy advocates in the world.
But Cook has also shown a softer, nicer side to Apple that has only broadened its appeal. He has made the company far more charitable and encouraged his employees to donate to charities. Cook, who publicly announced in 2014 that he is a homosexual and became the first openly gay CEO in the Fortune 500, has also been an important voice in equality for the LGBTQ community. Social justice, it seems, has been a cornerstone of his reign.
The Night is Young
After five years, Cook’s job is far from done.
In early September, Cook is expected to take center stage again to unveil the next iPhone, believed to be the iPhone 7. The handset’s importance cannot be underscored enough. If it succeeds, it could turn around Apple’s core business. If it fails, shareholders could grow increasingly concerned about the division that generates the majority of Apple’s revenue.
Meanwhile, Cook needs to make good on his promise that the iPad has a future with good opportunities for success and ultimately win the day in its heated streaming battle with Spotify. Cook must also not lose sight of other growth opportunities across healthcare, virtual and augmented reality, and yes, automobiles.
Of course, Apple’s notorious secrecy dictates that neither Cook nor the company will say exactly what the chief executive has up his sleeve. But if the past five years are any indication, Cook could take some risks (we’re looking at you, Apple Car) in the next five years, starting by expanding sales efforts in the booming India market as well as broadening Apple’s product lineup.
Along the way, Cook might trip and fall and be forced to apologize for another Apple blunder. But at least so far, he’s been able to pick himself up, dust himself off, and move on. All the while, he’s lined Apple’s pockets with even more cash.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment on Cook’s five-year anniversary.