Businessweek Cover Story on Apple Under Tim Cook

Feature story for Bloomberg Businessweek,* by Austin Carr and Mark Gurman:

Cook came to Apple in 1998 after a dozen years at IBM Corp. and a six-month stint at Compaq and seemed, at least to old Apple hands, devoid of any obvious personality. He’d work 18‑hour days and send emails all through the night. When he wasn’t at the office he seemed to live at the gym. Unlike Jobs, he had no pretensions to being an artist. “Tim was always pure work: grind, grind, grind, grind,” says one former Apple executive who worked with Cook in his early years at the company and who, as with other sources in this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of nondisclosure agreements and fear of corporate reprisals. “I always found him exceptionally boring.”

The magazine cover is a play on Cook’s obvious contrasts with Steve Jobs: “Here’s to the sensible ones, the team players, the problem solvers, the round pegs in the round holes…”

Is Cook boring, though? His public persona certainly is staid. He’s very rarely knocked off what feel like prepared talking points in his public remarks. And even when he opens up, he doesn’t reveal much. But is he boring, or just so intensely private and self-controlled that he comes across as a bit of a cipher to those who aren’t close to him?

This Businessweek piece is a good report — very fair, and rings true. There’s not much new in it for close followers of Apple, but it’s a good primer for those who aren’t. It ably addresses what I see as Apple’s and Tim Cook’s biggest risk: the almost indescribable scope of the company’s reliance on China for manufacturing. Here’s a bit:

[Foxconn founder Terry] Gou always seemed happy to accommodate, often building entire factories to handle whatever minimalist-chic design specs Apple threw at Foxconn. Jon Rubinstein, a senior vice president for hardware engineering during Jobs’s second tour at Apple, recalls almost having a heart attack in 2005 when he went with Gou to see a new factory in Shenzhen for the iPod Nano — a tiny device 80% smaller than Apple’s original MP3 player — only to find an empty field. Within months, though, a large structure and production line were in place. “In the U.S. you couldn’t even get the permits approved in that time frame,” he says.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October 2018 — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

Thursday, 11 February 2021