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The genius behind Steve (pg. 3)

By Adam Lashinsky, senior writer
Last Updated: January 15, 2009: 1:52 PM ET

Another IBM supervisor, Ray Mays, says it was clear that Cook made for an unusual IBMer in those days. "There was an old joke at IBM," says Mays, who was a manufacturing executive in the company's PC division. "'What's the difference between IBM and a cactus? The cactus has its pricks on the outside.' Tim was exactly the opposite. He had a manner that really caused people to enjoy working with him. He was smarter than anyone else, more aggressive in a positive way than anyone else, and worked harder than anyone else."

Cook left IBM in 1994 to join the computer-reseller division of a wholesaler called Intelligent Electronics. He became COO of that division before selling it to Ingram Micro in 1997. He then went to Compaq, but had stayed for only six months when Steve Jobs hired him in early 1998. Jobs gave the new hire an office near his own.

Today that office is decorated with Auburn paraphernalia, as well as a photo of a favorite singer, Bob Dylan. A photo of Bobby Kennedy reveals another side of Cook, the idealist. Cook has said he is "tormented" at times by thinking what would have happened if R.F.K. had become President.

"He had a way of touching and relating to people of all walks of life," Cook confided recently, according to someone who knows him well. "He was one of the people who got close enough to the presidency who really loved people, who wanted to raise people up." (Cook was a registered Republican when he lived in North Carolina. More recently he donated money to Barack Obama's campaign.)

Cook also admires the way Kennedy "was comfortable standing in his brother's shadow and doing what he thought was right." Coming from a man whose most critical career phase has been almost completely overshadowed by a charismatic leader with an uncommon ability to relate to the hopes and dreams of the masses, it's a telling comment.

Recently, though, Jobs has seen to it that Cook is getting public exposure, especially on Wall Street. He is a fixture on Apple's quarterly earnings calls, and he speaks at select investment conferences. "Operationally, when you think about what they've done - a massive retail-stores ramp, an expanded sales-channel presence, delivering new products without glitches, and managing huge seasonality - all speak to a company that is exceedingly well run," says Sacconaghi, the Sanford Bernstein analyst, referring almost wholly to aspects of the company that Cook oversees.

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