Tripp Mickle Profiles Tim Cook, Without Any Access, for the WSJ

Tripp Mickle wrote a long feature for The Wall Street Journal, “How Tim Cook Made Apple His Own” (News+ link):

After Steve Jobs’s death, Silicon Valley anticipated Apple Inc.’s business would falter. Wall Street fretted about the road ahead. And loyal customers agonized about the future of a beloved product innovator.

Today, Apple shares are at record highs. The company’s market valuation is $1.9 trillion — bigger than the GDP of Canada, Russia or Spain. And Apple, now the world’s largest company, continues to dominate the smartphone market.

That’s a good and mostly fair lede. But I don’t think it’s fair at all to say that “loyal customers agonized about the future”. Where’s the evidence of that? I’d say the group that’s missing after Silicon Valley (which believes strongly, justifiably in most cases, in the importance of founders) and Wall Street is business reporters. It wasn’t so much investors as the business media who predicted “can’t innovate without Steve Jobs” doom for Apple.

The feature is largely fair though, and it does read like Mickle tried very hard to get people who know Cook to talk about him. But, well, very few of them did, and those who did don’t seem to know him all that well:

Mr. Cook is described by colleagues and acquaintances as a humble workaholic with a singular commitment to Apple. Longtime colleagues seldom socialized with him, and assistants said he kept his calendar clear of personal events.

Around Thanksgiving two years ago, guests saw him dining by himself at the secluded Amangiri Hotel near Zion National Park. When a guest later bumped into him, he said he came to the hotel to recharge after a hectic fall punctuated by the rollout of Apple’s latest iPhone. “They have the best masseuses in the world here,” he said, the guest recalls.

Here Mickle’s source is a random guest who recognized Cook at a hotel.

It’s sort of inside baseball, but this paragraph is my favorite from the whole piece:

Apple declined to make Mr. Cook or any of its executives available. Instead, the company helped arrange calls with four people it said could speak to areas of importance to Mr. Cook such as environmentalism, education and health. None of the four said they knew him well. One had never met him, another met him only in passing, a third spent half an hour with him and a fourth spent a few hours with him.

I mean just savor the passive-aggressive fuck you/fuck you too back-and-forth of Apple making available four useless sources to Mickle, and Mickle pointing out in the article just how useless the four sources Apple made available were.

But this one weird paragraph actually says a lot about the difference between Steve Jobs’s Apple and Cook’s. Jobs wouldn’t have participated in a profile like this, either, but I think Apple’s response would have been nothing more than the two-letter word “no”. With Cook, Apple still didn’t make him available, still didn’t make anyone who works at Apple available, and still didn’t make anyone who actually knows Cook available. But they offered Mickle and the Journal something rather than just telling him to go pound sand.

Though current and former employees say Mr. Cook has created a more relaxed workplace than Mr. Jobs, he has been similarly demanding and detail oriented. He once got irritated that the company mistakenly shipped 25 computers to South Korea instead of Japan, said a former colleague, adding that it seemed like a minor misstep for a company shipping nearly 200 million iPhones annually. “We’re losing our commitment to excellence,” Mr. Cook said, this person recalls.

25 computers mistakenly shipped to Korea would not make my list of signs that Apple is losing its commitment to excellence, but this anecdote actually buoys me.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020