But Cook’s experience and a broad-based understanding of what Jobs has brought to the table are not quite the same thing as organizational capabilities (think first-rate market research) that deliver, day in and day out, on the promise of the founding entrepreneur. So from the perspective of history, the jury is out on whether Cook and Apple have what it takes to pick up the big, hefty gauntlet that Jobs has dropped.
While it’s crucial for Cook to embody the values Jobs has lived, it’s equally important that the new CEO find his own rightful place in the company. Tim Cook cannot be Steve Jobs. He can’t walk his path asking, “What would Steve do?” Instead, Cook needs to ask himself what he can do to further develop Apple with Jobs gone. Ultimately, he needs to make decisions based not on what Jobs would do, but on what Apple is and where it is headed. Planning a strategy around the company’s core competencies and unique position in the marketplace is what will keep Apple relevant and innovative, even without Jobs at the helm.
While the iPhone 5 launch will be Cook’s first public appearance as CEO, in some ways it’s just another launch—and a launch in which Jobs has played a big part. It seems likely that for the next few years, most new products in the Apple pipeline will bear Jobs’ imprint, even if he is no longer directly overseeing their development and launch. Given this, it may be awhile before we know if Cook has what it takes to keep up with the demanding speed of innovation and Apple’s world-class track record at both anticipating and shaping consumer wants in the tech world.
Nonetheless, Cook has a lot of hype to live up to as he walks on stage. Without Jobs’ wardrobe of black turtlenecks and blue jeans, Cook has to find a way to capture some of his predecessor’s infectious energy and evangelical zeal. This is not easy, but nothing less will do in winning over the market—the Apple customers, tech reviewers and analysts—to his own passion and vision.
Nancy F. Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School and author, most recently, of The Story of American Business: From the Pages of the New York Times.
Nancy Koehn: Putting Steve Jobs in perspective
William C. Taylor: Tim Cook, here’s how to lead Apple
Carol Kinsey Goman: Should Tim Cook wear a black turtleneck?