Report: Apple CEO Cook performing well but Steve Jobs ‘would have lost his mind over Siri’

Karen Haslam
26 May, 2012
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Steve Jobs would have “lost his mind over Siri,” according to an ex Apple employee.

The ex-employee told Fortune that people at Apple are “embarrassed by Siri”. Siri is Apple’s voice-recognition ‘PA’ feature on iPhones that has come under fire recently in a series of lawsuits that claim Siri doesn’t work as advertised. Siri was tagged as beta when Apple launched the iPhone 4S, and yet the company still picked it as the lead feature in its advertisements for the new phone.

Fortune has published a report that looks into the ways in which Tim Cook is changing Apple. Siri is noted as an example of a product that doesn’t reflect the normal quality of Apple products.

The report states: “The ultimate ‘tell’ of tectonic changes at Apple will be the quality of its products. Those looking for deficiencies have found them in Siri, a less-than-perfect product that Apple released with the rare beta label in late 2011, a signal that the service shouldn’t be viewed as fully baked.”

However, much of the report is very positive about Cook’s impact on Apple. It notes that both Apple employees and Wall Street analysts like and respect Cook, concluding that “as Apple enters a complex new phase of its corporate history, perhaps it doesn’t need a god as CEO but a mere mortal who understands how to get the job done.”

The report is full of examples of how Cook has changed the lives of his employees, who seem to have got back some of the work life balance that they didn’t have under Jobs. The tale of a meeting between a former Apple employee and a current Apple engineer is noted as one example. The former Apple worker assumed his friend would need to return to work following the meeting and was surprised that they had time for coffee. His conclusion: “I think people are breathing now.” However, Fortune notes, “it’s not necessarily a compliment.”

Another example of the more positive working environment is the case of a recent ‘Top 100′ company meeting – a tradition that gathers 100 of Apple’s top executives together for presentations – which was described as “upbeat and even fun,” in contrast to what it would have been under Steve Jobs. “Cook was said to be in a jovial, joke-cracking mood – a stark contrast to the grim and fearful tone Jobs engendered at the meetings,” notes the report. “Participants left the Top 100 energised about Apple’s near-term outlook.”

Fortune also reveals that Cook “often sits down randomly with employees in the cafeteria at lunchtime,” according to the Walter Isaacson biography, Jobs typically dined with Jonathan Ive.

It’s not just Apple staff that are seeing the friendly face of Cook. Cook is surprising investors by actually turning up to meetings and paying attention, something that Steve Jobs wouldn’t have done. According to the Fortune report, this is a “subtle but significant change” that means investors now have the CEO’s ear for the first time in years.

Cook is also a hit with Wall Street, not surprisingly since the company’s market value is up US$140 billion since Cook took over. “Wall Street in particular has good reasons – billions of them, actually – to love the Cook regime,” states the report.

Cook’s progress in China is also keeping analysts and shareholders happy. Fortune mentions Apple’s strengthened relations with China. In particular Cook’s visit to the Foxconn factory after Apple was criticised for working conditions there.

The report also notes Apple’s investments in China, suggesting that when Apple disclosed that it was US$2.6 billion assets there the number spoke to the value of the material and equipment Apple has bought on behalf of its suppliers. “Apple risks its own capital – with US$110 billion in cash at last count, it has plenty to risk – as a way of financing massive upgrades in its manufacturing capabilities in Asia, even though its partners will operate the equipment.”

As a result of Cook’s appointment as CEO, “Apple has become slightly more open and considerably more corporate,” according to Fortune.

One former engineering vice president told Fortune: “It looks like it has become a more conservative execution engine rather than a pushing-the-envelope engineering engine. I’ve been told that any meeting of significance is now always populated by project management and global-supply management. When I was there, engineering decided what we wanted, and it was the job of product management and supply management to go get it. It shows a shift in priority.”

Another change is with mergers and acquisitions. “Steve Jobs basically ran M&A for Apple,” notes the report. Today there is a department that allows Apple to “work on three deals simultaneously”. There are also more staff with MBAs being employed. Fortune notes that 2,153 Apple employees reference the term “MBA” in their LinkedIn profiles, and of those, “more than half the employees who reference “MBA” have been at Apple less than two years.”

The report suggests that “Cook is taking action that Apple sorely needed and employees badly wanted.” It also notes that “It’s almost as if he is working his way through a to-do list of long-overdue repairs the previous occupant (Jobs) refused to address for no reason other than obstinacy.”

Cook is “putting his stamp on Apple” and revealing “signs of Apple becoming a more normal company”.

“He seems, at the end of the day, to be honoring one of Jobs’ dying requests: That Apple’s management not ask “What would Steve do?” and instead do what’s best for Apple,” states the report, which can be read in full here.

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