Book Review : Tim Cook, The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level


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I bought this book on Amazon Prime to read on a plane ride last week to Austin, and the round trip was all the time I needed to finish it, that too at a leisurely pace. I loved Walter Isaacson’s take on Steve Jobs when it came out and expected a similar in-depth treatment on Tim Cook as well. Considering the fact that Kahney did not get to interview Cook in person, I think this book does as good a job as possible under that circumstance.

I knew very little of Cook’s early years – except that he was an IBMer for a while. The book gives a great view to his upbringing in Alabama and ties together the themes on how his early years influenced his world view quite a bit.

The book paints the picture of a very talented Cook rising up fast at every employer he worked for – and yet never taking the lime light. The contrast is stark – he stayed in the shadows of Jobs when he was COO. And then when he became CEO, he had no trouble dismantling quite a bit of what Steve did at Apple. That takes a lot of bravery given the cult following Steve Jobs enjoyed – even after his death. People I know at Apple have confirmed this time and again that the culture has shifted significantly under Cook to a more pleasant, humane and charitable one.

The million dollar question in every reader’s mind is who has had more influence – Jobs or Cook ? This book makes a good case on why Cook was the better CEO for Apple, based on the financial performance ( which in turn is because of better operations under Cook), more fair employment practices, green initiatives and so on. Cook does not get much credit as a product guy – and only time will tell. His two major initiatives are Apple Watch and the secretive(?) Apple Car projects. Apple Watch has taken off and I bet it will go from strength to strength (already bigger than the swiss watchmaking industry) with the push on healthcare fronts. Car – the book indicates is a failure. If we draw a line today, of course Cook cannot hold a candle to Jobs on product front.

All that said – the book makes a very strong case that Cook is a significantly better human being than Jobs. Jobs had no issue with lying, and he would never apologize for his mistakes. Cook on the other hand have very high standards for himself and he holds his team accountable for that.

As much as Cook cares deeply about Ethics, fairness etc – he is all about the business first and foremost. This becomes clear in the book from the wide gap between his talk on diversity and his actions on filling Apple’s board and senior executive team with mostly white males. He won’t risk disrupting what is in place today. He does deserve credit for significant effort and investment in STEM education and other initiatives to have a better entry level pipeline. Can’t blame him too much though, to be fair – what he has done so far is significantly better than most other CEOs.

While his stance on diversity can be questioned, his initiatives on cleaning up Apple’s act when it comes to their Supply chain partners is commendable. Of course we can argue that Apple can do more and should do more. But on a relative scale – Cook has not only made Apple a better company, I think he has laid the groundwork for the industry to be a whole lot better as a collective. Not a lot of CEOs can claim that !

The book covers in great detail his strong stance on not compromising privacy of his customers – especially with the FBI request for a backdoor entry to phones. That is admirable and is one of the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most. To do this in silicon valley when FB and Google and others all thrive on convincing customers to trade privacy for convenience is beyond admirable. Kahney paints this picture very well indeed.

I would definitely encourage you to read this book

 

 

 

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Michael Koch says:

    Thanks for this, Vijay. I’ve just finished my copy – it took me longer to read as I am a notoriously slow reader, but enjoyed it nonetheless. In particular, I enjoyed the IBM and Compaq years, as it was a great trip down memory lane for me, reminding me of my first decade in IT.

    I’m now keen to read other bios and auto-bios from other captains of the IT industry. Any recommendations?

    Like

    1. Have you read Lou Grestner’s book ?

      Like

  2. Vivekananda Kuragayala says:

    Hi Vijay,

    Great review. I like the comment on humane side of Tim Cook. When I read about Steve Wozniak and Jobs relationship, Jobs with colleagues, I had hard opposition on Jobs human side. And, I was deeply concerned on the psychological aspects of humans growth phases. I have no lesser opinion on the technology achievements of Jobs. Still I see Steve woziniack like a hero. I liked the personality of Tim as per your review. James Comey’s higher loyalty also has a similar ethical side of discussions which I enjoyed profoundly.

    Like

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