Despite his friendly, gentle demeanour, Apple’s chief executive officer Tim Cook has been described as a tough leader who has been known to ‘leave his staff in tears’.
A new profile of the billionaire Apple boss describes a man who leads his staff ‘through interrogation’, according to contacts cited by the Wall Street Journal.
Cook succeeded Apple co-founder Steve Jobs as CEO in 2011, six weeks before the latter’s death from cancer.
Since that time, Apple’s market value has soared from $348 billion to $1.9 trillion, but the ‘cautious and tactical’ leader has had to be ruthless behind the scenes.
Cook reached billionaire status earlier this month, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
As the WSJ reports, in Apple’s headquarters, middle managers screen their staff before meetings with Cook ‘to make sure they’re knowledgeable’, while first-timers are ‘advised not to speak’.
‘It’s about protecting your team and protecting him. You don’t waste his time,’ said one of the WSJ’s sources, described as ‘a longtime lieutenant’.
‘People have left crying.’
If Cook senses someone is insufficiently prepared, he loses patience, says ‘next’, and flips a page of the meeting agenda, this person said.
While Cook has created a more relaxed workplace than Jobs – who was known as an uncompromising boss with a fiery temper – Cook has been similarly demanding and detail-oriented.
The ‘humble workaholic’ has a ‘singular commitment’ to Apple who keeps his calendar clear of personal events, rising at 4am to review global sales data every day.
Any of his free time is dedicated to exercising in a gym away from Apple Park, the company’s 2.8 million square foot headquarters, to ensure privacy from staff.
Cook holds Friday night meetings with operations and finance staff – an event that’s been nicknamed ‘date night with Tim’ because it stretches hours into the evening.
Joe O’Sullivan, a former Apple operations executive, said Cook’s first meeting with staff the day he arrived in 1998 lasted 11 hours.
Fast forward to today and staff still face meetings with Cook with a good deal of trepidation.
O’Sullivan said: ‘The first question is: “Joe, how many units did we produce today?” “It was 10,000.” “What was the yield?” “98 per cent.” Then he’d say: “OK, so 98 per cent, explain how the 2 per cent failed?” You’d think, “F***, I don’t know”.
‘It drives a level of detail so everyone becomes Cook-like.’
Chris Deaver, who spent four years in human resources working with Apple’s research and development operations, nicknamed Cook the ‘processor’, due to his tendency to carefully consider new information and act accordingly.
‘He likes to listen a lot. Time and patience are his favourite warriors.’
Cook was picked by Jobs to succeed him in part because the former operations chief ran a division ‘devoid of drama and focused on collaboration’.
Part of Apple’s recent success has been down to Cook creating his own leadership style rather than trying to emulate Jobs.
‘I knew what I needed to do was not to mimic him,’ Cook told ESPN in 2017.
‘I would fail miserably at that, and I think this is largely the case for many people who take a baton from someone larger than life.
‘You have to chart your own course – you have to be the best version of yourself.’
Cook, who is openly gay, has also aligned the company’s values towards acceptance, diversity and human rights since he took over.
Last week, Cook said he is ‘personally committed’ to improving the number of female and black leaders in Apple’s senior ranks.
Cook has a good relationship with US President Donald Trump, who has called the CEO a ‘friend’.
In one televised meeting between the two, Trump called him ‘Tim Apple’ – a moment that quickly became viral.
The Apple boss later jokingly changed his name on Twitter to Tim followed by a picture of the Apple logo.
Cook reached billionaire status only last week as the Cupertino, California-based firm nears $2 trillion in value.
However, Cook isn’t even in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index’s top 500 and has nowhere near the personal wealth of the likes of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who is listed with a net work of $186 billion.
According to Bloomberg, the majority of Cook’s wealth has come from equity awards he’s received since joining Apple in 1998.
Cook has previously said that he plans to give most of his fortune away and has already gifted millions of dollars worth of Apple shares, Bloomberg said.