Apple's Tim Cook: 6 months running the iPhone empire

By Jonny Evans

Six months to the day since officially becoming Apple's [AAPL] CEO, Tim Cook has already made subtle but important changes to the way the company does business. Apple today is both more human and more complex than it has been before. Take a look:

[ABOVE: Tim Cook speaks at the Auburn University Commencement ceremony, May 14, 2010.]

Feel the love

Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously kept his philanthropic activities secret, leading many to doubt he engaged in them at all. During his time as company CEO, Apple operated no charitable donations program. This changes under Cook.

"Starting September 15, when you give money to a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Apple will match your gift dollar-for-dollar, up to $10,000 annually. This program will be for full-time employees in the US at first, and we'll expand it to other parts of the world over time," he wrote in a note announcing the plan.

The shareholder's meeting

Sure, Apple shareholders may not have seen a stock buyback scheme or dividend payment (yet), but Cook last night admitted the company has more money than it needs for operations. The executive team are thinking "deeply" about what to do with all that cash, he said.

Given that shareholders for the most part have already grown rich as shares reflect company performance, perhaps it might be better for Apple to invest some of its billions in other things: a charitable foundation for US education, perhaps?

Speaking during the shareholders meeting last night, Cook noted that an "incredible" percentage of the employee matching program mentioned above has gone to fund education and scholarships. Could Apple do more here? The company is certainly in position to do something unexpected -- even world-changing -- with all that cash.

Worker rights

The continuing furor around Apple's supply chain partners is exposing the tough tangents to conditions in the global factory that is China. And while Apple is being singled-out for criticism the fact remains that these are problems faced by anyone using Chinese factories.

Under Cook Apple's response to its critics is promising: opening its factories to inspection by one group of trade reps (with talk it may in future invite other groups to add their oversight); permitting ABC to get an inside look at manufacturing and more. Critics might point to a certain ambiguity to the FLA and its involvement with Nike, but surely it's refreshing to see any kind of movement toward protecting worker rights.

Reports claim Apple's even digging into its margins to raise Foxconn salaries -- though any human resources consultant should be able to tell you job satisfaction isn't just about cash, but also about autonomy, personal advancement, and quality of life. There's not much of the latter available to workers chained by silvery cuffs to the production line for 14-hours a day.

"We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain," Cook said. "Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don't care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It's not who we are."

Cook strikes me as someone who, once they make statements like those above will then exercise what he has to realize his stated ambition.

Consumer rights

Perhaps you missed recent reports on the Apple/Google/Microsoft accord that consumers should be guaranteed an open and transparent way of sharing information with apps.

While I have reservations on the compact the firms have reached, mainly because it lacks any form of enforcement code, it's still a step in the right direction.

Negotiations leading to the agreement apparently began in August 2011, when Cook officially took the CEO's position and the world lost Steve Jobs. (Today, incidentally, would have been Jobs' 57th birthday).

Product design

Apple's former CEO was indisputably a world-changing personality. Many were concerned the company he founded would lose its focus on product design with his absence. This isn't happening.

The company continues to explore its options -- "We think about everything. We don't close things off," Cook told Walt Mossberg earlier this month.

In the months ahead we'll see further expansion of the iOS empire, a laser-focus on tablets, improved integration between iOS and OS X, expansion into emerging markets, further adventures in television and yet more improvements within iTunes, iCloud and Siri. And that's just what we know about.

Apple under Cook seems intent on breaking out of its US-first mind-set to consolidate its position as a world-class firm. Where Jobs' vision managed to create opportunity, Cook is building infrastructure.

Speaking at a Goldman Sachs conference recently, Cook noted the fundamental importance of building strong foundations: "The reason the iPad's ramp has been so large in my view is that the iPad has stood on the shoulders of everything that came before it — the iTunes store, the iPhone. People trained on these products so by the time the iPad launched it was intuitive to use. I gave one to my mother and she knew how to use it, like this, just from watching the commercial."

You'll learn to listen

You may recall early 2011, when Cook took the podium to introduce the iPhone 4 for Verizon. One of his first headline performances the proto-CEO lacked the verve of Apple's Steve Jobs, but on his successive appearances since you can begin to see why, within Cupertino at least, when Cook talks, people listen.

Meanwhile his record of control and execution within the company stand for themselves. Who do you think it is who managed to assemble incredibly complex supply chains while also managing to ensure good profit margins?

Cook's an operations whizz who understands the importance of product design. He's the man who makes sure Jony Ive's design team have the ingredients they need to create the products you'll want tomorrow. And, as various big-deal component purchases across the last few years show us, he's pretty good at resource-gathering and allocation.

Despite all Apple's many reported challenges: bitter litigation in the smartphone industry; reported problems within its manufacturing and supply chains; exposure of its part in a "no-hire" deal with Google and more, Cook's company continues to fire on all cylinders, with stock prices climbing from $376.16 per share when he took over to $516.39 today.

Apple, under Cook, seems just a little more human. Where Jobs' attention to detail forced a corporate tunnel vision in which the product became the sole directive, Cook appears capable of exercising an eye for detail across every aspect of the company's operations.

Apple has life beyond Jobs after all.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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