“We screwed up” says Tim Cook: Five insights from Apple chief’s latest interview

It’s been a tough year for Tim Cook. Sitting in the hot seat of the biggest technology company in the world, he’s expected to continue Steve Job’s legacy while at the same time improving upon everything Apple’s co-founder ever built.

 

Although Cook has presided over a 23% increase in the company’s share price, there have been problems. Just yesterday, the company suffered its largest one-day loss this year due to fears it may lose steam in China – one of its biggest growth areas.

Cook’s moves have also been controversial at times. He’s overseen a huge management reshuffle, getting rid of iconic iOS chief and Jobs ally Scott Forstall, and made a public apology for the maps app debacle.

In a new, extensive interview at BusinessWeek – Cook’s first long-form interview since becoming chief executive – he delves into the struggle of keeping the company going and some of his biggest changes.

At the centre of Cook’s leadership dilemma have been questions over his very ability to lead the company – critics say he lacks the fire and brimstone approach used by Steve Jobs to get the best out of his workers.

“I’m certainly not a fist-pounder,” he says in the new interview.

Some of Cook’s revelations are fascinating insights into his personal life, others indicate future directions for the company – Cook revealed an entire line of Mac products will be manufactured in the United States starting from next year.

Some of his remarks are surprisingly frank. “We screwed up,” he says, referring to the company’s failure to deliver a solid Maps app.

Here are five of the most interesting revelations from Cook’s latest interview:

1. Manufacturing coming back to the United States

There has been a wide call for Apple to bring its manufacturing back to the United States, and clearly this is a strategy Tim Cook wants to execute – a line of Macs will be built in America starting from next year.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time, and we were getting closer to it. It will happen in 2013,” he said.

“We’re really proud of it. We could have quickly maybe done just assembly, but it’s broader because we wanted to do something more substantial.”

Overall, the company will be spending $100 million in bringing manufacturing back to the United States. Clearly, this is a hint that more home-based manufacturing could be on its way.

2. Leadership style

Steve Jobs was well-known for his abrasive leadership style. Cook, much more quiet and reserved, has taken criticism for his different approach.

“People that know me, I don’t think they would say that. I certainly am not a fist-pounder. That isn’t my style,” he says.

“But that and emotion are two different things. One is just a way of expressing it, basically.”

3. Apple’s meeting structure

Managers would no doubt be interested in hearing about Apple’s meeting schedule. Every Monday at 9am, the company holds an executive team meeting for four hours. Cook says that meeting is a time for discussion about “everything that’s important”.

“We go through every product that’s shipping, how it’s doing. We go through every new product that’s on the road map—what’s going on, how the teams are doing, and any key issues there are. We might argue and debate current issues. We might argue and debate future road maps.

“You don’t get out of sync because you’re constantly coming together.”

Cook also holds weekly product meetings with different divisions, to make sure he’s on top of each subset of the company.

“You have meetings like this not just for yourself, although it’s critical for yourself, but you do it because it helps the company run.”

4. The importance of walking around

One of the biggest risks in being a chief executive is that you stop keeping in touch with how the company runs on a day-to-day basis. Cook says he gives himself time to walk around and see what’s happening on the ground floor.

“Not allowing yourself to become insular is very important—maybe the most important thing, I think, as a chief executive. Now fortunately, I think it would be really hard for a chief executive of Apple to become insular, but maybe it could happen. I don’t know.”

“But between customers and employees and the press, you get a lot of feedback. The bigger thing is processing and deciding what to put in the distraction category versus where the nuggets are.”

5. Another apology for maps

Cook has already apologised for the maps debacle, but he’s addressed it again here – “we screwed up”.

But he says the company is working hard on a solution.

“We’ve got a huge plan to make it even better. It will get better and better over time. But it wasn’t a matter that we … decided strategy over customers. We screwed up. That’s the fact.”

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