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March 30, 2012

Apple’s new CEO already as popular as Steve Jobs

Tim Cook is already being hailed as the greatest CEO in the world. Are Apple CEO's immune from rational criticism?

By Vinod

AllthingsD, the Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal’s technology spin-off, is reporting that Steve Cook is broaching approval levels comparable to his illustrious predecessor, Steve Jobs. See: "Apple Workers Put Tim Cook Atop List of Most Beloved CEOs"

According to the anonymous Apple employee rankings posted to careers community, Cook has a 97 percent approval rating. Is a cagey Apple already preparing the propaganda machine for his successor?

How is such fanfare possible, a mere 10 months out from Mr Cook’s coronation? Internal politics aside, are these respondents still trapped in the illustrious glow of the world’s most successful brand, or is Cook as good as the results dictate?

This is however, the same survey that gave vampire squid Goldman Sachs’ controversial Lloyd Blankenfein a 97% approval rating last year – ahead of Mr Jobs.

So what, potentially, could Cook have achieved in such a short period to warrant such praise?

He has certainly taken a different approach to his predecessor. Where Jobs was perfectly happy to live in his own bubble, almost immune to media and analyst intrusion (if not outright antagonistic to it), Cook has been more active in responding to outside influence.

This week saw Cook visit the Foxconn plant in China (Foxconn build most of Apple’s mobile products), to observe the company’s labour practises. This saw a new commitment from Apple to improve working conditions – long a bugbear for globalisation and human rights activists.

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Cook also decided to return some of Apple’s astonishing $100bn in cash to shareholders – another move his predecessor had long avoided.

Jobs had certainly been burned a few times in his corporate life, but none more so than his unceremonious ditching out of the company he founded in 1985. His return in 96 didn’t ease the company’s constant trouble with cash in the late 90s. So his reticience is perhaps a bit expected. It appears this cash hoarding mentality never left his mind – hence the $100bn.

Jobs preferred to reinvest cash in developing new products and experimenting with new technologies (which, again, is what saw him turfed in the 80s) and was reluctant to return this kind of cash to shareholders.

Right or wrong, Jobs got away with a lot of autocratic behaviour – that probably wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else – simply because the successes kept flowing.

It seems now that Cook is willing to take a different view of this cash hoard, and decided to return it to investors in the form of a dividend. You could argue that this is the beginning of the end of Apple’s innovative period, much like Microsoft and Google (arguably) became slaves to shareholders concerned only with dividends once they listed. Or you could see it as the responsible behaviour of a responsible operator.

Either way, it seems Cook is more malleable. He is less of a flamboyant personality, even if he seems to have been influenced a bit by Jobs in his public CEO performances. The dress sense, the gesticulation, the posture, the ‘casual-ness’ – but to be fair his launch of the iPhone 4S doesn’t really count, this was a Jobs project he oversaw, Siri and all.

Similarly, anyone could have turned up and thrust the iPad 3 (CBR refuses to call it ‘The New iPad’) into the public gaze – but again, this was a Steve Jobs project blowing over into Cooks reign.

The question remains – when will we see a true ‘Tim Cook’ Apple product, and when will we see a ‘Tim Cook’ Apple? Will then a 97% rating be warranted?

Should we consider Tim Cook to be the most revered CEO in the tech world? CBR welcomes your comments.

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