Even ten or eleven years ago when I first made a presentation to Tim Cook, getting in front of him was a huge deal. At the time he was known more for his company saving supply chain expertise than as the man who runs Apple when Steve Jobs isn't around.
Anyone who has worked with Tim will tell you he is a very smart man who loves to dig down into the details. That love of detail's might be one of the reasons Steve trusts Tim with his company. I suspect Mr. Cook might be a little more tuned into the big picture these days especially with the experience gained in talking about Apple results.
Tim has had plenty of opportunity to grow in his job. He has obviously gotten over any shyness in front of groups. He has also had a tenure at the top that goes well beyond most Apple executives that I can recall.
I still respect Tim for one of the decisions that he made on a project that I was trying to get going as the manager in charge of Apple's federal government business. Like any major company Apple has competing business units with different priorities, and sometimes getting change that is good for the company as a whole makes another unit nervous that they might lose revenue, customers, or power.
My team of federal account executives knew that many federal customers wanted to purchase Apple products but that the contract vehicles in place did not meet their needs. Customers wanted to buy direct from Apple and not wait while a reseller ordered the product and then eventually shipped it to them.
We found that if we could create an on-line store government customers utilizing the federal SmartPay option, customers could order products under $2,000 without a lot of red tape. Of course we had to fight about terms and conditions with Apple's legal road blocks to business. Then we actually had to fight Apple's then current on-line store who thought they would lose revenue credit. The final hurdle was lobbying from the federal reseller channel. I was able to show how little business they had done on our key products. Still the whole thing was going nowhere.
Late one night, I sent Tim an email. He had already blessed the project, and in spite of the couple of other VPs supposedly supporting the project, it was stalled. I got a terse email back from Tim back confirming that the project had stalled. The next day opposition to the project was gone.
The Apple Federal Online Store turned out to be a huge success. It went on to be such a success that in typical Apple fashion the company decided that it wasn't really the sales people driving the success, it was Apple's products and their ability to sell themselves. They eventually removed credit for sales from the sales people who championed the program and used it when there was no other way for customers to purchase.
So ten years later the operations genius who helped us make this program successful is now running the company.
I am hoping that Tim Cook gets the opportunity to remove a few more roadblocks to Apple's growth. While it might not look like there are any hurdles in Apple's way, I tend to think there are.
One thing that I hope Tim has learned how to do is pay a little more attention to customers. While there is always the opportunity for the next "idevice," my suspicion is that Apple might not even need them if they can focus on really doing things well.
Doing things well means paying attention to customer needs and once in a while favoring functionality and common sense over style. Now long ago I bought one of Apple's I5 iMacs. While i love the look of the machine, I am amazed at the design flaw of the SD slot being only a couple of inches below the DVD drive slot. On top of that I am not exactly pleased about having to buy a 27" screen just to get an I5 processor. I would not class the ports behind the screen as accessible. It could be a better product with a little tinkering.
Then there is Apple cloud strategy which once again we are hoping against hope might be fixed with whatever strategy is behind the new data center Apple is building in North Carolina. I have my doubts because there are fundamental things which the Apple product centric strategy misses in world which is rapidly becoming data centric. When I show iPhone users the great contact management that I have with my Droid's tight integration with Gmail they are amazed. Showing them how well the Droid handles my Google driven Picasa Web Albums just blows them away. Maybe Apple will figure this out, but I am only keeping my MobileMe subscription for one more year.
All these are huge challenges, but as I have said Tim Cook is a smart guy who has shown the ability to break through some Apple logjams. I hope Steve has given him the freedom to do that.
I also hope that he has learned to take the competition seriously. While I use an I5 iMac, I also am writing this on an I7 HP laptop running Windows 7. In about two weeks, I am going to be able to write a post saying that my wife and I have been running Windows 7 on two laptops for over a year without a single system hang. That is impressive competition and a huge change from the quagmire of Vista.
I am also a very happy Droid user, and I don't see anything that Apple can offer to change that. While I am sure that I am on the geekier side of the spectrum, two of my least technical friends bought different Android devices without even consulting me so Google must be doing something right. This year I think we will have an answer to the question of whether consumers prefer lots of hardware choice or the simplicity and stability of the iPhone world. I have already cast my vote, but we will see what the results are at year end.
My ice breaking season is hopefully drawing to a close in this cold winter. I have another set of personal challenges on the horizon, but I still wish Tim Cook well with his new responsibilities. Keeping Apple healthy keeps choice and innovation alive, and it is important to a lot of us.