Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook is becoming accustom to the role of understudy for CEO Steve Jobs. First in 2004, while Jobs recovered from pancreatic cancer surgery, then in 2009 for six months while Jobs had a liver transplant, and now while his boss takes a medical leave for unspecified reasons.
Little wonder Cook is seen as the top choice to lead Apple, should Jobs’ temporary leave become permanent. “I have great confidence that Tim and the rest of the executive management team will do a terrific job executing the plans we have in place for 2011,” Jobs said earlier today. But will the transition be as smooth as Jobs’ hopes – or will Cook be snapped up by GM, HP, or others?
For Apple, as elsewhere in life, reality is one thing and perception is another. In 2009, Cook was lauded for leading a seamless period of management while Jobs was out. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, a keen observer of Apple machinations, assured investors sales would not be affected by the absence of Jobs’ hand on the tiller. Fortune also calmed its readers, writing: “The fact is that Tim Cook has been running day-to-day operations at Apple for some time.”
But as we’ve noted, perception is another matter. “Perception of the company is another matter,” Richard Winsor, a global technology specialist at Nomura, told Reuters this morning. “Steve Jobs is seen by the market to be a major force in Apple’s strategic direction,” he added.
Winsor said Apple is “in safe hands under the sure step of Tim Cook.” However, other companies also see Cook as a leader. In September 2010, Cook denied rumors he was moving to HP to become that PC maker’s CEO. In early 2010, Cook was also mentioned as first in line to replace General Motor’s CEO.
Cook, who Jobs hired soon after returning to the Cupertino, Calif. company, quickly moved from supervising computer manufacturing, to global sales and then chief operating officer. Last year, Cook’s total compensation was $59 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Apple’s CEO is “praised for his ability to make Apple’s sprawling operations move on time,” according to the newspaper. In 2009, Jobs’ second-in-command helped keep Apple’s business dealing unchanged and products were developed and released on schedule, unnamed business partners told the WSJ.
Is the profile and other reassurances surrounding Cook Apple’s way of building a corporate mythos to match Jobs’? Obviously, the positive reports are designed to calm the markets. While some indication of the impact of Jobs’ departure (however temporary) could be seen today in Europe, Tuesday, the U.S. exchanges open following the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. That will indicate just how well the build-up for Cook is received.