I worked in big pharma neuroscience preclinical R&D for many years. As the industry continued to fail to develop new drugs, our executives took to doing ever more frequent analyst road shows, where they touted their wonderful Phase III pipelines and thus, by extension their blockbuster drugs in the making. Those of us in the inside knew it was total bullshit, as we saw through the deceptive and selective misuse of data. The road shows helped prop the stock up and the executive made millions on their options, but of sixty leads we put into the clinic in a record five years NONE, zero, nada, became actual drugs.
So when I look at Tim Cook, I find myself asking, Is he really that bad, or is he really that good? It’s tough to see past the silence, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that everything that has been Apple has been the illusory product of Steve Job’s reality distortion field. Those are real first class products on the market, treasured by overwhelmingly loyal Apple fans for real reasons, and that are enormous real profits on their balance sheet.
As for the loss of Jobs himself, I’m continually astounded by the yearning for his unparalleled genius. I’ve been following Apple for a very long time, and the way I remember it, the conventional perception of him by the analyst community was of unrelenting skepticism. Oh, OSX, why bother? Microsoft won that battle long ago. Oh, the iMac, how trite; just colored plastic. Oh, the iPod: just another MP3 player. Oh, the iPhone. What does Apple know about the phone business, and what’s with that ridiculous price? Oh, the iPad, how silly; just a big iPod Touch. And so on. SJ was reportedly deeply depressed about the initial, dismissive reception to the iPad. Maybe he thought he should have earned the benefit of the doubt by then. I’m sure he realized it would be his final product launch.
Would Steve have handled this ridiculous decline in AAPL differently than Tim? I remember very well Apple’s earnings miss in September 2000, due in part to the flop of the Power Mac G4 Cube. I remember it well, because a margin call wiped out my highly margined trading account. Steve’s take on the earnings miss? “Just a bump in the road,” he said. The “investor” blogs were up in arms about this careless disregard for shareholder value. Apple was finished. The market was done with weird, pretty computers. I felt that indignation too, and given the margin call, I sold my 30,000 shares. Turned out that earnings miss was just what Steve said, a bump in the road.
So the fact that Tim Cook has not been out there publicly defending the stock, desperately bending to Einhorn, rushing to dole out special dividends, flooding emerging markets with cheap phones — this all gives me confidence that Apple is still playing by the Jobsian playbook. Apple is still playing the long game. I find it amusing that all these analysts that pine for the irreplaceable SJ continually crap on his closest, remnant embodiment, which is Apple itself. Somehow, the one entity that the incomparable SJ built from the ground up into the world’s most unique and profitable enterprise is at a profound, existential disadvantage to the copycat organizations he had no role in molding.
Maybe Tim Cook is just that good. Maybe Steve picked the right guy this time. Maybe the real trick is to not talk about what you’re going to do, but to just do it and talk about it after.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the “ugly” truth about Steve Jobs’ successor: