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The genius behind Steve (pg. 2)

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

The memory purchase also shows that Apple's operations strategy isn't only about cost cutting. "Way too much of the supply-chain world has been about taking the last cent out," says Blake Johnson, a consulting assistant professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, who has deep contacts in Apple's operations group. "Apple doesn't do that."

In 2004, the year Cook filled in for Jobs, he also took control of the Macintosh division. The next year, Jobs named Cook chief operating officer. Today his purview extends to iPhone sales and operations, including responsibility for negotiating with wireless carriers who sell the devices in 51 countries. The heads of important departments like legal, finance, design, and marketing report directly to Jobs. But no other executive touches as much of Apple as Cook.

A brush with death

Though he's capable of mirth, Cook's default facial expression is a frown, and his humor is of the dry variety. In meetings he's known for long, uncomfortable pauses, when all you hear is the sound of his tearing the wrapper of the energy bars he constantly eats.

Like everyone else at Apple, Cook dresses casually in jeans, his graying hair cropped close in the style of Lance Armstrong, whom he idolizes. (Through a friend, Armstrong says he doesn't know Cook, though he's "heard he's a good dude.") Perhaps Cook's only notable sartorial flourish is that he always wears shoes from Nike, where he's on the board of directors. (Jobs, another sneaker wearer, is a New Balance man.)

Cook's stamina is the stuff of legend at Apple. He often begins e-mailing the executives who work for him at 4:30 a.m.; worldwide conference calls can take place at any time of day. For years, Cook held a standing Sunday night staff meeting by telephone in order to prepare for yet more meetings on Monday morning.

Mike Janes, who worked with Cook for five years, ultimately as head of Apple's online store, recalls a Macworld conference in New York when Cook convened a meeting in the afternoon after one of Jobs' mesmerizing morning keynotes. "A number of us had tickets to see the Mets that night," says Janes, now CEO of an event ticket site called FanSnap. "After hours, he was still drilling us with question after question, while we were watching the clock like kids in school. I still have this vision of Tim saying, 'Okay, next page,' as he opened yet another energy bar. Needless to say, we missed the Mets game."

For those who can take it, working for Cook is an edifying experience. "He'll ask you ten questions. If you answer them right, he'll ask you ten more. If you do this for a year, he'll start asking you nine questions. Get one wrong, and he'll ask you 20 and then 30," says Steve Doil, who worked in Cook's operations group before moving to Texas for family reasons.

Cook can be brutal in meetings. "I've seen him shred people," says a former executive who now works for another consumer electronics company and refused to be quoted by name. "He asks you the questions he knows you can't answer, and he keeps going and going. It isn't funny, and it's not fun."

While a select group can claim to understand Cook at work, almost nobody claims to know much about his life outside Apple. A lifelong bachelor, he lives in a rented house in Palo Alto, vacations in places like Yosemite and Zion national parks, and shows few visible signs of wealth despite having sold more than $100 million of Apple stock over the years. He's known for being the first in and last out of the office and for his grinding international travel schedule, and when he isn't working he tends to be in the gym, on a hiking trail, or riding his bike.

Cook's aversion to ostentation may be rooted in his background. He grew up in Robertsdale, Ala., a small town "on the road to the beach," he told an Auburn University alumni magazine in 1999. His father is a retired shipyard worker, his mother a homemaker. Like Steve Jobs, Cook had his own brush with mortality: In 1996 he was told he had multiple sclerosis, which turned out to be a misdiagnosis. "You see the world in a different way" after such an experience, he told the Auburn magazine.

Many consider Cook aloof, though it's just as likely he's off-the-charts shy. Gina Gloski, a Boston-based semiconductor consultant, graduated from Auburn the same year and in the same industrial and systems engineering program. She was one of just a handful of women and therefore rather popular, if she does say so herself. Yet Gloski didn't know Cook until years later, when they served together on an alumni council.

"Tim's just not a real social person," says Gloski. "He's not antisocial, either. He just never seemed that interested in other people. I'm a hugger and a kisser, but I'd never feel comfortable giving Tim a hug or a kiss."

The most common observation about Cook is how temperamentally different he is from Jobs. Cook is cool, calm, and never, ever raises his voice. Jobs - well, he's not any of those things. A former Apple executive says he used to have a rehearsed line in his head on the off chance he ended up in an elevator with Jobs, who can be spontaneously fearsome. Did he have a similar canned speech for Cook? "No, because he wouldn't talk to you."

After graduating from Auburn, Cook spent the next dozen years at IBM in Research Triangle Park, N.C., picking up an MBA from Duke along the way. He showed his single-minded devotion to work, remembers Richard Daugherty, a boss from the time, by volunteering to work in the plant between Christmas and New Year's so that the company could fill all its orders for the year.

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