Cook: The man now tasked with following Apple's Jobs

by Glenn Chapman, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 06 2011 12:42 PM | Updated as of Oct 06 2011 08:42 PM

SAN FRANCISCO - The death of Apple founder Steve Jobs raises new concerns about whether the California-based company can thrive without his vision and flair for invention.

The spotlight will be on freshly-anointed Apple chief Tim Cook who immediately paid tribute to Jobs, who died Wednesday at the age of 56, calling him an "inspiring mentor."

"Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being," said Cook, who took up the company helm in August when Jobs resigned due to his failing health as he battled pancreatic cancer.

"Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple."

But analysts had already been underwhelmed Tuesday when Cook unveiled an updated iPhone 4S instead of a highly-anticipated revamped iPhone, and Apple share prices swiftly took a nosedive, although they recovered Wednesday.

Cook, who now has the challenging task of maintaining Apple's reputation for cutting-edge innovation and visionary technological gadgets, is known as an operational mastermind.

He is relentless in his work ethic and has played a leading role in the gadget company's turnaround.

Soft-spoken and unassuming Cook, who turns 51 years old in November, and is Jobs's hand-picked successor, is no "Johnny-come-lately" to Apple, independent analyst Carmi Levy told AFP earlier this year.

"He's been with Apple since 1998 and is widely credited with revamping the company's manufacturing processes and returning the once-struggling outfit to profitability," Levy said.

"If Jobs was the flamboyant, cultish, headline-grabbing pitchman who generated so much buzz that electrified consumers would often clamor to buy new products sight unseen, then Cook was the quiet, operationally focused guy who executed on the vision and kept the machine turning smoothly in the background," Levy said.

And even though Cook is no Jobs, some analysts speaking Wednesday before Jobs's death remained confident the company will continue to shine as people snap up iPhones.

"I don't think Apple's lost their mojo at all," Gartner analyst Van Baker told AFP, before news of Jobs's passing broke, adding that "a lot of Steve's qualities are embedded in the Apple culture."

Others were more skeptical.

"Apple trades on magic and what is gone is the magic," said independent Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle, also speaking before he learned of Jobs's death.

"With Jobs there you would have walked away thinking the iPhone 4S was better than it was," he continued. "But, in this case people walked away thinking it was less than what it was."

"Jobs was bigger than life and, as a result, was revered so much that anything he introduced was almost over hyped," said analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies.

"In the end, people do not buy products because of Steve Jobs," Bajarin added. "They buy them because of what they can do for them."

Bajarin and other analysts praised the iPhone 4S and said the real test of Cook and his team will be sales.

"Steve was the face of Apple and was an evangelical product marketer," Enderle said. "It is like a church following a beloved minister; that is not an easily transferrable skill set."

Cook, Apple's chief operating officer until his elevation to CEO, grew up in the US state of Alabama with a shipyard worker father and a mother who tended to their home.

He earned an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering from Auburn University before going on to earn a master's in business administration at Duke University.

Cook's resume includes a 12-year stint in the personal computer division of technology stalwart IBM.

He spent about a half year working at computer company Compaq before Jobs hired him as a worldwide operations executive at Apple in 1998.

Cook's hiring came shortly after Jobs return to the helm of what was then a floundering company.

While Jobs gets the glory for guiding Apple from the brink of ignominy to its current place among the world's most valuable firms, analysts say Cook's operational brilliance was key to the recovery.

Cook worked behind the scenes outsourcing manufacturing and coordinating distribution to beef up how much money Apple makes from iPods, iPhones, iPads and Macintosh computers by ensuring products don't grow stale in warehouses.

He is also credited with shrewdly negotiating deals for components that kept down Apple costs and fattened profit margins.

Cook is also seen as the architect of Apple's retail strategy, including the launch and wildly successful growth of the company's real-world stores.

"I am confident that Apple can move forward under Tim Cook and his executive team and that Apple will continue to be one of the most important technology companies in the world," Bajarin said after learning Jobs was dead.

In a message to Apple employees in August when he took over, Cook promised that Apple was going to remain true to itself.

"I want you to be confident that Apple is not going to change," the new CEO said. "Steve built a company and culture that is unlike any other in the world and we are going to stay true to that -- it is in our DNA."