As Tim Cook nears a decade at the helm, Apple focuses on who’ll take over

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Tim Cook WWDC
Who will be Apple's next CEO?
Photo: Apple

Much of Apple’s senior team, including 59-year-old CEO Tim Cook, are of a similar age. That means they’re probably not going to be in their roles for too many more years.

As Cook approaches a decade at the helm of Apple, a Friday report from Bloomberg claims that he and his team are “increasingly focused” on succession planning. That means cultivating its “next class of top managers” who could take the helm of the world’s most valuable company.

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By my count, Cook has now been in the post the third-longest of any CEO in Apple history. (You can also tack on a bit of extra time for the medical absences in which he covered for Steve Jobs).

Previous Apple CEOs

Jobs ran Apple from 1997 through 2011. John Sculley took over from 1983 through 1993 (although Cook will surely overtake his record). Cook assumed the mantle in 2011.

Previous Apple CEOS ran the company for shorter terms: Michael Scott (1977 to 1981), Michael Spindler (1993 to 1996), Mike Markkula (1981 to 1983). The shortest tenure for any Apple CEO was Gil Amelio (1996 to 1997). Amelio famously titled his memoir, On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple.

Cook has never given much indication that he’s looking to wind things down at Apple. Jobs, his predecessor, was forced to step down due to health problems. And all the previous execs — save for Markkula — wound up leaving under a cloud. Cook’s Apple has been, by a wide margin, the company’s most commercially successful period. From shareholders’ perspective, he could stay in the role for as long as he wanted, given the current trajectory.

He won’t, of course. At some point Cook will step aside — and, this time, Apple has (assuming Cook’s good health continues) the luxury of being able to fully prepare for someone to step into his shoes. So who will fill them?

The next Apple CEO

According to Bloomberg, Apple CFO Jeff Williams is the most likely person to take over as CEO. An Apple veteran and operations expert, he’s the man sometimes referred to as Tim Cook’s Tim Cook.

Joining Apple in 1998, Williams has been climbing the ranks for years. A promotion in 2004 saw him take on the role of vice president of operations. In 2015 he was named Apple’s chief operating officer, working directly under Cook. Williams is considered “unambiguously the second-most important person at Apple,” according to Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman.

If Apple’s board of directors wants another pragmatic, operations-focused person to take over for Cook, Williams is an obvious pick. (The only potential downside, I’d think, is that, at 57 years old, William is only a couple of years younger than Cook. That certainly doesn’t disqualify him, but it would make him an unlikely long-term pick.)

Other transitions within Apple

Bloomberg‘s report also suggests that Greg Joswiak, Apple’s recently promoted senior vice president of worldwide marketing, could eventually be succeeded by iPhone marketing VP Kaiann Drance, Apple Watch marketing VP Stan Ng or Susan Prescott, who handles marketing for apps and enterprise.

Software engineering team boss Craig Federighi is considered likely to remain in the job for “several more years.” After him, Sebastien Marineau-Mes, Apple’s VP of intelligent systems experience, and Jon Andrews, VP of software engineering, are two possible replacements.

Sribalan Santhanam, meanwhile, could take over from Johny Srouji on the Hardware Technologies group. Operations boss Sabih Khan could be replaced by Priya Balasubramaniam, currently head of operations for iPhone. John Ternus may take over from Dan Riccio in running Apple’s hardware engineering division. And Peter Stern might take over from Eddie Cue running services.

Plenty can change

There are, of course, plenty of things that can change in succession plans. It wasn’t all that long ago that retail boss Angela Ahrendts was talked about as a possible future Apple CEO. She’s no longer with the company. And in the 2000s, when people discussed who would take over from Jobs, Scott Forstall was a name often bandied about. He left Apple relatively soon after Cook took over, following the Apple Maps debacle.

When you’re talking about senior roles at Apple, you’re referring to some of the most prestigious roles in the tech industry. But Apple’s also a company where people tend to stay for a long time, rather than big-name hires coming from the outside and being thrust into top-level positions. That should make the process a bit more predictable. At least, on paper.

Who would you like to see take over from Cook as CEO? With the departure of Jony Ive and Phil Schiller in recent years, are we about to see a major shakeup in Apple’s leadership team? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.