WHAT was the biggest mistake Apple made following Steve Jobs’ death?
That was the question posed by users on question-and-answer site Quora. Tech entrepreneur Rajan Bhavnani shared this response.
Making Tim Cook chief executive …
Don’t get me wrong — I like and respect Tim. He’s smart, accomplished, I like his stance on encryption, the list of great things I can say about Tim is longer than … well, it’s long.
The problem is, he was chief operating officer … COOs of big Fortune 500 companies generally don’t make for good CEOs of hi-tech innovation-focused companies.
It’s not their fault. The COO’s job is standardising processes, cutting costs, improving supply chain consistency. These are deeply analytical jobs and seem to put leaders into a certain mindset that is not easily changed. It’s a mindset focused on consolidation and risk elimination.
The CEO needs creativity and needs to have a focus that seeks out strategic opportunities for growth and expansion, and they need to engage in intelligent risk taking sometimes by being willing to invest in risky development projects that fizzle out into nothing.
Because for every iPhone, there were probably dozens of terrible ideas that were supported until they died, that failed as products, that had to be redirected until they were unrecognisable.
I like Tim — he helped Apple do things that needed to get done. He fixed their terrible supply chain. He even implemented smart and automated cost saving measures. Every Steve Jobs needs a COO like Tim Cook to help them really get things done — to balance their creative chaos. Unfortunately, when you have a COO in charge, it squashes the Steve Jobs types.
Let’s talk about iPhone colours. I think it’s a perfect example. Under Steve Jobs we had black and white. I suspect those colours drove Tim crazy. On multiple years, the black or the white phone release (or initially available quantity) was delayed (or reduced) because of manufacturing problems.
Stark colours show any tiny light leakage and are notorious for showing manufacturing imperfections. It’s like having a black or white car — even a tiny bit of dust immediately stands out … The manufacturing defect rates must have kept Tim up at night, but they looked fabulous.
What did Tim do? He dumped black and white for “space grey” and “silver” (aka dark grey and light grey), colours that are much more forgiving in the manufacturing process.
It’s like replacing a little black dress with a grey one — it might be cheaper, but it’s not the same thing. No one is pushing Tim and forcing him to deal with creative chaos because there’s no one above him to say, “Sorry Tim, black and white just looks better so figure it out.” That’s what a CEO needs to do when his COO says, “Hey, we can save some money if we make these phones in shades of grey instead of black and white.”
Good COOs need someone like that who can push them. It seems like Tim doesn’t have a person who can do that for him.
This article originally appeared on Quora and was republished with permission.
For 17 years thought to be lost, this candid, in-depth interview with the late visionary filmed in 1995, Steve Jobs discusses at length his early days, career battles, and vision for the future, just two years before he would go on to retake control of Apple.