Jeff Williams might be Apple’s next Tim Cook

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Apple COO Jeff Williams
Williams is next in line for the CEO’s office.
Photo: Apple

Apple operations chief Jeff Williams is the most important person at the company after CEO Tim Cook, according to a new report.

Williams, who has also taken over Apple’s design studio following the departure of Jony Ive, is thought to be first in line to replace Cook when the time is right.

“He’s very much in the mold of the current chief executive: a paragon of operational efficiency and even temper,” said several current and former colleagues.

Williams isn’t particularly well-known outside of the hardcore Apple fanbase, but he has held important roles at the company since he joined in 1998 as the head of worldwide procurement.

A promotion in 2004 saw Williams take on the role of vice president of operations, and in 2015 he was named Apple’s chief operating officer, working directly under Tim Cook.

Williams is now considered “unambiguously the second-most important person at Apple,” according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman.

Williams is Apple’s number two

Described as modest, disciplined, and a demanding leader, Williams isn’t too dissimilar to Cook. He “has a knack” for watching, listening, and asking the right questions. He is said to be more hands-on with product development.

“Williams attends weekly reviews of product and industrial design progress, subsequently briefing Cook for a final signoff, and has been the lead executive shepherding the Apple Watch to market,” the report notes.

Management is said to have been positioning Williams for the top job at Apple long before Ive’s departure. Responsibilities in his current role have ranged widely for many years, and he now oversees all products during the development process.

Williams holds weekly meetings to get updates on product progress, and some employees have started calling those meetings “Jeff Review” — instead of the usual New Product Review.

Williams may not be the most exciting CEO

Questions were raised about Apple’s decision to put Williams in charge of design. Many say it’s a sign that Apple is now an operations company above everything else. But he may not be the worst choice as Ive’s replacement.

“People close to the design team say they trust Williams to understand the value of what they do and help implement their ideas instead of overruling them,” Gurman writes.

Williams wouldn’t be considered an exciting CEO, due to his many likenesses to Cook and his similar way of working. “He’s the closest thing at the company to Tim Cook, and you’ll get more of that,” a former senior Apple executive said.

But “if you think Cook is doing a good job, then it’s a good choice.”

And Apple doesn’t necessarily need a visionary leading the company, “as long as there’s a visionary in the company that the CEO can work with,” said Michael Gartenberg, a former Apple marketing executive.

Of course, Williams may never get the chance to sit in the CEO’s chair at Apple Park. He’s less than three years younger than Cook, and as things stand there’s no sign of the top position becoming vacant any time soon.