If Apple CEO Tim Cook could clone himself, then he might just appoint his clone to be his right-hand man. But since he can’t, he chose the next best thing to be the company’s chief operating officer as out of all the possible candidates, he chose the one who is arguably the most like him. From the career path they both had and the way they do business, Jeff Williams’ similarities with Cook are many. And even though Cook probably won’t be bowing out any time soon, Wall Street is buzzing with commentary about whether Williams will be Apple’s next chief executive.
There are plenty of reasons Williams is often referred to as “Tim Cook’s Tim Cook.” Cook had high praise for him, calling him “hands-down the best operations executive I’ve ever worked with” in the press release that announced his appointment to the COO post. In a post on Yahoo! Finance, Aaron Pressman reports that both Cook and Williams went to school for engineering and earned their business degrees from Duke University.
Both men spent some of their early careers working at IBM and then went to Apple. Both of them joined the iPhone maker in manufacturing and operations, and both share some personality qualities like their meticulousness and their sharp memories. They even are about the same height, and they have similar hairstyles. They are also both health nuts with a penchant for bicycling.
Cook’s interest in Williams started early in his time at Apple, according to Bloomberg‘s Adam Satariano, who reports that one of his first phone calls after joining the iPhone maker in 1998. Williams said that at the time, he didn’t plan on signing on at Apple, which was flailing about and had just posted losses of $1 billion.
Where Cook and Williams are different
Pressman also notes that there are some differences between the two men. One area of important difference is the way they speak to crowds. He says Cook “can get so wrapped up in details that he starts spouting business school jargon like ‘customer sat’ and ‘marcom.'” On the other hand, Williams has a more natural speaking style. Also Williams doesn’t spend nearly as much time in the spotlight as Cook has with a variety of public appearances in a multiplicity of venues like George Washington University and a conference focusing on digital civil liberties.
This last difference could change, however, as Williams did take on a role in the keynote speech during a product unveiling in March 2014. Indeed, it may be to Apple’s benefit to put Williams in the spotlight more because of his ability to be more down to earth than Cook.
A mixed track record at Apple
The COO post has remained empty since 2011 when Cook was appointed to the CEO role, and Williams has been serving as COO in all but name as his growing list of responsibilities has been typical of what one would expect a COO to do. More recently, he has headed up the development of the Apple Watch and is overseeing the ResearchKit API. He was also sent to China to address the complaints about worker conditions.
However, Pressman also notes that there have been some problems, as last year the initial supplies of the Apple Watch and the iPhone 6 Plus were not nearly enough to meet demand. As head of the company’s supply chain, these issues fell under his oversight. Also he was blamed in part for the collapse of GT Advanced Technologies, which filed for bankruptcy after signing a deal to supply Apple with sapphire glass. Williams apparently oversaw that partnership, and GTAT blamed in part the stringent terms of Apple’s contract Apple for its bankruptcy.
Is Williams in line to be Apple’s next CEO?
Along with the appointment of Williams to the COO post, Apple also shuffled some other management around by rearranging some responsibilities. In some cases, like with Williams, it was simply a matter of firming up a job title they already should have had, while in others, it was a matter of taking some responsibilities and reassigning them to a different executive for the purpose of restructuring where their management comes from. UBS analyst Steven Milunovich suggests that the reshuffling means Apple is becoming more “vertically integrated.”
On whether or not Williams will be Apple’s next CEO, Nomura analysts Jeffrey Kvaal and James Chen said only the board knows whether he is next in line, but they also note that Cook’s contract lasts for ten years. Milunovich believes Williams is indeed next in line for the chief executive post, adding that investors will wonder whether making his position as COO official means Cook might be thinking about retiring “in a few years.”
Apple shuffles other management
The Nomura team believes bringing the App Store under Phil Schiller “makes mostly good sense,” as he now is in charge of the store across all of the company’s four ecosystems, iOS, OSX, tvOS, and watch OS, plus most of the developer functions. The Nomura team suggests that this move will “help minimize diffusion in the roadmaps,” although he still holds the position of senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, which they say is “an unusual combination.”
Eddy Cue may be taking on more responsibilities in iCloud and Apple Music, while Johny Srouiji has now officially been given the hardware chief role.
Shares of Apple tumbled by as much as 2.83% to $105.91 in late afternoon trading today.