John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Does Tim Cook Need His Own Tim Cook?

Apple’s biggest leadership shift yet is now behind it. But will there be other smaller ones as the company adjusts to its new org chart? If Tim Cook is the right person to be Apple’s next CEO, who’s the right person to be its next COO, the role that Cook left vacant when he took up the reins this morning?

Cook’s operational acumen has driven Apple’s expansion since he first joined it. As Chairman Steve Jobs once told Businessweek, “I couldn’t find anyone internally or elsewhere that knew as much as I did — so I did that job for nine months before I found someone I saw eye to eye with, and that was Tim Cook. After Tim came on board, we basically reinvented the logistics of the PC business.”

Given the importance and increasing complexity of Apple’s long-term strategic supply chain investments, can Apple manage without a COO for long?

In other words, does Tim Cook need his own Tim Cook?

“There will be a point in time where there will be a need for a successor to Tim Cook,” Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu says. “Obviously, that point isn’t now but could be in a few years.”

The most likely candidate for the job: Jeff Williams, who was promoted to senior VP of operations last summer. An Apple veteran, Williams has worked closely with Cook for over a decade and overseen some of the company’s major supply chain deals. It was Williams, for example, who orchestrated Apple’s massive flash memory purchase in 2005, one that effectively cornered the market for NAND flash and left rivals scrambling for supply. He’s also credited with leading worldwide operations for the iPhone since the device first launched.

So if someone is to succeed Cook as COO, Williams would appear to be the guy.

“My take is Apple does need a COO, and effectively has one with Jeff Williams,” says Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. “He has been VP of operations since 2004, and was promoted to Senior VP a year ago. Whether or not Jeff gets the COO title is hard to say.”

Indeed. The COO is traditionally viewed as CEO in waiting. Is Williams CEO material? That’s impossible to say at this point and it’s premature to speculate. But it’s worth noting if only because it might mean that Apple will keep the COO slot open until Williams is properly groomed for it, or the company finds a candidate it feels is more worthy.

“COOs serve two roles — to broaden a potential CEO successor and/or to divide up the administrative responsibilities in an organization,” says Harvard Business School professor David Yoffie. “It is too early for the former, and Tim Cook will have to decide if the latter is necessary. Many big companies do not have COOs, and I suspect that Apple will not appoint a new COO in the near term.”

Apple spokesperson Katie Cotton stopped short of denying further organization changes down the road, but she did insist the transition will be smooth.

“Apple is not going to change,” Cotton told AllThingsD. “Apple is a company and culture unlike any other in the world and we are going to stay true to that. We are going to continue to make the best products in the world that delight our customers and make our employees incredibly proud of what they do.”

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