Who is Apple's stand-in CEO Tim Cook?

Who is Apple's stand-in CEO Tim Cook?

The man behind the man who made Apple

Who is Apple's low-profile COO Tim Cook who is to stand in for Steve Jobs while he takes a leave of absence due to his health? Fortune did a profile of Cook last fall, when rumors where still swirling about Jobs' medical problems, in light of his thinness and paleness. (Read the story about Jobs' leave of absence. See Jobs' letter to Apple employees.)

Cook has actually taken over the CEO reins from Jobs before: for 2 months in 2004, while Jobs was recovering from surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Cook turned 48 in November and the Fortune article described him as a "fitness nut" and "intensely private."

He's from Alabama and is a 1984 engineering graduate of Auburn University.

Cook was hired by Apple a decade ago to deal with the mess of Apple's manufacturing and distribution operations and its supply chain. The coolest products in the world are useless unless they meet quality criteria, can be manufactured efficiently with strict cost controls, and an entire set of complex inter-relationships deliver the product efficiently, on time, to everyone who wants one. Fortune tracked some data that showed Cook has been very successful in keeping inventory low and profit margins high, both highly desirable trends.

The article mentions one meeting of his team to talk over a problem in China. According to Fortune, Cook told the group, "This is really bad. Someone should be in China driving this." Thirty minutes later, he glanced at Sabih Khan, a key operations executive, "and abruptly asked, without a trace of emotion, 'Why are you still here?'

"Khan, who remains one of Cook's top lieutenants to this day, immediately stood up, drove to San Francisco International Airport, and, without a change of clothes, booked a flight to China with no return date, according to people familiar with the episode. The story is vintage Cook: demanding and unemotional."

Mac blogger John Gruber, at Daring Fireball, is impressed with Cook's analysis of the Macintosh market, and of Apple's ongoing strengths during last October's announcement of new Mac products.

Gruber wrote: "Cook then showed two pie charts. One showing the Mac's unit share in the U.S. retail market at 18 percent, up from 'a single digit number, just a few years ago'. Cook then drops the kicker, the single key point you need to grasp to understand Apple's Macintosh business: 'And what's more impressive than this is if you look at revenue share. Because we focus on fully-featured systems, and we don't compromise on quality, our revenue share is over 31 percent. That means that one out of every three dollars that's spent on computers in U.S. retail is spent on the Macintosh. What a difference a few years makes.'"

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