This article was published on August 25, 2011

Tim Cook is now Apple’s left brain, but who will be its right?

Tim Cook is now Apple’s left brain, but who will be its right?
Matthew Panzarino
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Matthew Panzarino

Matthew Panzarino was Managing Editor at TNW. He's no longer with the company, but you can follow him on Twitter. Matthew Panzarino was Managing Editor at TNW. He's no longer with the company, but you can follow him on Twitter.

Now that Steve Jobs has stepped down as Apple’s CEO and taken the position of Chairman of the Board, the future of the company is on everyone’s mind. Thankfully, the road to the future was prepared for carefully, as fits a company as shrewd as Apple.

To this end, Apple’s COO Tim Cook is officially assuming the CEO spot that he’s held in an interim fashion since January, when Jobs took his latest health leave.

Cook is a strong executive with an incredible track record, including his immense success with Apple’s operations over the last several years. The way that Apple has sourced and nurtured supply chains that ensure them exclusive access to the best technology, the huge success of the iPad, Apple’s smooth rise to the most valuable company in the world.

A myriad of factors contributed to these various triumphs, to be sure. But at the heart of them is Apple’s COO, Tim Cook and his masterful control fo the company’s day-to-day operations.

Cook’s fresh new bio says it all:

Before being named CEO in August 2011, Tim was Apple’s Chief Operating Officer and was responsible for all of the company’s worldwide sales and operations, including end-to-end management of Apple’s supply chain, sales activities, and service and support in all markets and countries. He also headed Apple’s Macintosh division and played a key role in the continued development of strategic reseller and supplier relationships, ensuring flexibility in response to an increasingly demanding marketplace.

Steve Jobs occupied a unique spot at the top of the company’s hierarchy as a visionary who had a reputation for being intimately involved with product development. But since Cook was tapped as COO, Jobs has had a companion in arms that has helped him to make these products a reality.

Cook has substituted as CEO several times. In 2004 Cook deputized for two months while Jobs recovered from pancreatic cancer surgery, in 2009 Cook picked up the company reigns for several months while Jobs underwent a liver transplant and in January of this year, Cook began filling in for Jobs after he was granted medical leave by the Apple board.

Since then, Apple has basically been undergoing a dry run of the future we’re looking at now. Jobs in a stand-off Chairman’s position, still very much in an oversight position, and Cook as the man on the ground, running Apple the way that he very much has been for the past several years.

Apple is without a doubt in good business hands, but that isn’t the whole picture. Jobs isn’t just a business visionary, he’s also a master of products, of gauging what customers will want, not what they want now. Jobs was the rare CEO that was able to balance the ‘left brain’ of logical, analytical thought and the creative, intuitive ‘right brain’ as well. It’s an extremely hard to find combo, especially in top executives

While Cook is brilliant, this kind of intuitive understanding of where technology is headed isn’t his absolute wheelhouse. While he is obviously insanely intelligent and dedicated, he’s going to need his own partner at Apple to allow him to not only execute what is most likely the next 3-5 years worth of products that Apple already has in the pipe but also the new products that will emerge from a post-Jobs-as-CEO Apple.

There are several likely candidates to act as Apple’s new ‘right brain’, helping to innovate products. There is Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of Product Marketing, Jonathan Ive, SVP of Industrial Design and Scott Forstall, SVP of iOS Software. Of those three, I believe that Ive is the most likely choice to act as a conduit through which Apple’s future product design will be funneled.

It’s a likely choice, with Ive having designed the iPod, iMac, iPhone and iPad, among many other now-iconic Apple products.

But Ive isn’t a software guy, and Apple has always lived and died on its tight integration of hardware and software. That’s why I think that Scott Forstall and Phil Schiller, who is in charge of marketing worldwide,  are going to have a lot to do with product innovation at Apple going forward. In his time as CEO, Jobs has built an incredible team of executives that embody the values that he has permeated Apple with.

It’s this three-fold cord, Ive, Forstall and Schiller, that will provide the product development and guidance compliment to Tim Cook’s smooth operator skills as CEO.

In the end though, it’s important to acknowledge that Jobs is really not ‘gone’ yet. Despite admittedly fluctuating health, he still operates as Chairman of the Board and will be providing product direction for the forseeable future. This means that in addition to the several year pipeline of products that Apple already has on its books, we can most likely look forward to many years worth of Steve’s visions informing the direction of the company.

But when the time comes, you can rest assured that Jobs has assembled as strong an executive team as any that has been.  Yes, no one person can replace someone as unique as Jobs, but with all of the pieces in place, Apple’s left brain and right brain will continue to work in harmony to produce some of the best products in the world.

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