Tim Cook Is a Better CEO Than Steve Jobs, Says Cook’s New Biographer

Tim Cook stands in front of a keynote photo of Steve Jobs at an Apple launch event.

Tim Cook stands in front of a keynote photo of Steve Jobs at an Apple launch event. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When Steve Jobs passed away in 2011 at the height of Apple’s popularity and success, it was hard to imagine anyone capable enough to take over his job without changing or potentially damaging Apple’s unique brand identity. Jobs’ successor, former Apple chief operating officer Tim Cook, evidently doesn’t mind living in his shadow—for the past eight years, Cook has regularly paid tributes to the late Apple founder at company events and on social media.

To Jobs’ fans, including Cook, he is arguably the greatest entrepreneur in the history of consumer tech. But not everyone would rate him as a great CEO—in fact, he was far less fit for the job than his successor, according to Cook’s new biographer, Leander Kahney, whose new book, Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level, hit shelves on Tuesday.

Subscribe to Observer’s Business Newsletter

“Jobs may be unparalleled at developing new technology products, but running companies wasn’t his strength,” Kahney wrote in an op-ed for Wired on Wednesday. “His successor, Tim Cook, has proved himself to be superior in the role and has arguably become the best of the six chief executives that Apple has had.”

The first and foremost proof is in the numbers. Under Cook’s reign, Apple has nearly tripled its annual revenue to reach an all-time high of $265.6 billion in 2018. Last August, it also became the first ever company to reach a valuation of $1 trillion dollars. This rapid growth was largely due to the undying appeal of the iPhone and Apple’s new product offerings since Jobs’ passing. For example, the Apple Watch, introduced in 2015, grew so quickly that it was estimated to have outsold the entire Swiss watch industry by 2017.

By non-financial measures, Apple is also a much better company today than it was under Jobs’ leadership, Kahney noted. Since Cook took over, Apple has invested billions in green power. It has pledged to make its entire supply chain 100 percent sustainable and is 30 percent towards that goal.

In contrast, Jobs’ track record as Apple’s CEO was a lot more mixed. “Since his death, something of a cult has developed around Jobs—and rightly so; one of history’s greatest innovators deserves significant praise. But not everything he touched turned to gold,” Kahney wrote, pointing to Jobs’ ousting by Apple in 1985 over his “behavioral problems” and the failure of his hardware venture, NeXT, after that.

NeXT was acquired by Apple cheaply for $400 million in 1997. As part of the deal, Jobs returned to Apple as CEO.

But even under his administration, it was Cook who actually oversaw the day-to-day operations during Apple’s growth years. As chief operating officer, Cook played a key role in building up Apple’s supply base in China, which laid the groundwork for the ensuing production ramp-up as Apple’s demand skyrocketed.

“When he was appointed, industry analysts worried that Cook wouldn’t be able to increase revenue significantly because of the so-called ‘law of large numbers,’ meaning that it’s one thing to add a few million to Apple’s bottom line, but billions would be near impossible,” Kahney wrote. “Over the past eight years, he’s proven them wrong.”

Tim Cook Is a Better CEO Than Steve Jobs, Says Cook’s New Biographer