Inside Tim Cook’s emotional journey to becoming CEO of Apple, replacing his friend and mentor Steve Jobs

Cook has been with Apple since 1998 and became the CEO of Apple in 2011 following Steve Jobs.

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Cook has been with Apple since 1998 and became the CEO of Apple in 2011 following Steve Jobs.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

  • Tim Cook took the job as CEO of Apple in August 2011, leaving many wondering if he could fill the shoes left by his friend, colleague, and mentor, Steve Jobs.
  • A lot has changed since then. Cook has made great strides at Apple, including the original product launch of the Apple Watch.
  • But when he was first announced for the role, he was a big question mark. He had come out of seemingly nowhere to lead a significantly large company.
  • Cook quit his job and joined Apple when the company was nearly bankrupt. What a lot of people don’t know is that Apple would never have gotten where it is without Cook’s help early on in Jobs’ reign.
  • Here’s an inside look at Tim Cook’s emotional journey to becoming CEO of Apple after Steve Jobs resigned.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Tim Cook was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1960. His father, Donald Cook, was a shipyard worker. His mother, Geraldine Cook, worked at a pharmacy.

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The shipyard Donald Cook worked at is not pictured here.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


Cook graduated from Alabama’s Auburn University in 1982 with a degree in industrial engineering.

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Auburn University is one of the largest universities in the south.
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Rob Hainer/Shutterstock

Source: Business Insider


From there, Cook joined IBM in its still-new PC division — before Microsoft Windows was even a thing. He eventually became the director of North American fulfillment.

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IBM Watson Office 10. This is not the IBM office that Cook worked in.
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Hollis Johnson

Source: The Telegraph


Cook was misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1996, something he says made him view the world in a different way. Since then, he’s been a fitness buff and a big giver to MS-related causes.

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Cook throws a peace sign at an Apple Special Event in 2015.
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Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Source: The Guardian


Twelve years later, he left IBM and jumped into a COO role at a company called Intelligent Electronics. In 1997, he eventually became a vice president of corporate materials at Compaq, then one of the hottest PC manufacturers around.

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Compaq CEO Michael Capellas (right) after a press conference in New York on September 4, 2001.
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Jeff Christensen/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


Meanwhile, Steve Jobs had just come into power as Apple’s CEO, following the ouster of Gil Amelio. Jobs had the tough task of turning the company after many years of fading relevance and went looking for fresh blood for his executive team.

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Jobs gives a Keynote speech in 1998.
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Reuters

Source: Business Insider


So Jobs approached Cook, identifying him as a strong prospect for his new Apple. Cook signed on to Apple in 1998 in an initial role as the SVP of worldwide operations.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook.
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Getty

Source: Business Insider


It must have been a difficult decision for Cook. In 1997, Apple was an industry laughingstock: Michael Dell, one of Microsoft’s closest partners, once said that if he were in Jobs’ shoes, “I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

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Michael Dell (right) at a Windows product launch in 2001.
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Mario Tama/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


And experiencing Jobs’ biggest flop first-hand just a few years later probably didn’t make the transition easier, either. In 2000, Apple released the Power Mac G4 Cube, but the small PC, which Cook called an “engineering marvel,” never found its audience.

Source: Business Insider


But Cook said the “spectacular failure” taught him an important lesson in humility and intellectual honesty. “This was another thing that Steve taught me, actually,” Cook said. “You’ve got to be willing to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I was wrong, it’s not right.'”

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Apple CEO Tim Cook speaking during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre on the Apple Park campus.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


But everything worked out. One of Cook’s biggest early coups was closing Apple’s own factories and warehouses and replacing them with contract manufacturers, meaning that devices could be made in larger quantities and get delivered faster.

Source: Business Insider


Tim Cook once said of his role: “You kind of want to manage it like you’re in the dairy business. If it gets past its freshness date, you have a problem.”

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A dairy farm in western France.
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Stephane Mahe/Reuters

Source: Wired


Starting in 2005, Cook made investments that would lay the groundwork for the future of the company, including forming critical deals with manufacturers on flash memory, the computer-storage component that would form the basis for the iPhone and iPad.

Source: The New York Times


Cook’s prescience meant that when competitors sought to build their own phones and tablets, they had to compete for what little factory capacity and components those factories could spare, after they had already fulfilled their commitments to Apple.

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An Android phone.
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Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

Thanks to Cook’s management expertise, his star within the company rose rapidly. Apple was on the track toward growth and big profits, and Cook got a lot of the credit.

Source: Business Insider


As his influence grew, Cook became known within the company for his no-mercy, relentless questioning style, his willingness to hold hours-long meetings, and his propensity for sending emails at all hours and expecting answers.

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Cook, Jobs and Phil Schiller, EVP Product Marketing, answer questions about the new iMac in 2007.
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David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone — the device that would change everything.

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Jobs unveils the iPhone in 2007.
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David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


That same year, Jobs brought Cook a little closer into the core of the business by naming him COO. At this point, Apple insiders say, he was already running much of the business, with Jobs just there to make important product decisions.

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Cook and Jobs answer questions at a press conference in 2010.
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Kimberly White/Reuters

Source: Apple


As COO, Cook made more appearances at public events, getting out in front of executives, customers, partners, and investors.

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Cook examines the Macbook Air at a special event at the company’s headquarters in 2010.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In 2009, Tim Cook was named interim CEO while Steve Jobs was on leave to manage his declining health. Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, and it was starting to take its toll.

Source: Business Insider


In 2009, Cook actually offered Jobs a portion of his liver, since they share a rare blood type. But Jobs refused, saying, “I’ll never let you do that. I’ll never do that.”

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Cook and Jobs answer questions about the iPhone 4 in 2010.
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Kimberly White/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


In January 2011, Cook took over as interim CEO once again while Jobs was on medical leave. In August 2011, Jobs resigned his role to focus on his health, with the board naming Cook the permanent CEO of Apple.

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Cook speaking at an Apple launch event in New York in 2018.
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Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


When Jobs died in October 2011, Cook had the flags of the Apple campus flown at half staff in his memory.

Source: Business Insider


Business Insider reported that Cook considers the time following Job’s death as the loneliest time of his life.

Source: Business Insider


Cook told Stanford University’s graduating class of 2019 that mentors can leave you prepared but not ready.

Source: Business Insider


Cook said that after Job’s death, “when the dust settled, all he knew was that he was going to have to be the best version of himself that he could be.”


But Cook had some big shoes to fill. The iPhone, especially, is an internationally beloved product, and Jobs is held up as one of the greatest CEOs in history.

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Tim Cook presenting at an iPhone event.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


“His greatest gift … was not a singular product, but rather Apple itself,” Cook said of Jobs in 2017.

Source: Business Insider


In the months following Jobs’ resignation and then his death, there was a lot of uncertainty over whether or not Apple could keep the momentum going under Cook.

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Cook’s first presentation as CEO.
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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Though Cook was now in the limelight as CEO of Apple, he followed Jobs’ example as a public figure and has remained intensely private when it came to his personal life, directing the attention as much as possible back on Apple.

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Cook is into health and fitness.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


In 2014, though, Cook ended years of speculation by publicly announcing, in an editorial in Bloomberg Businessweek, that he was gay. That made Cook the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Source: Business Insider


During his tenure as CEO, Cook has kept a lot of important Apple traditions alive, including appearances by rock stars like the Foo Fighters at big company events …

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Cook shakes hands with Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl.
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Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

Source: Rolling Stone


… and Jobs’ famous “one more thing” product announcements.

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Cook uses Jobs’ signature “one more thing” to announce products.
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Stephen Lam/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


But things also shook up a little bit under Cook’s watch. The best example is Scott Forstall, former Apple VP of iOS, who stepped down from his role in 2012.

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Cook and Forstall at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 2012.
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Stephen Lam/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


And in June of 2019 Apple’s design chief Jony Ive left the company.

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Ive is in the center.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


In 2015, Apple released the Apple Watch, the company’s first entirely new product in the post-Jobs era.

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Cook and model Christy Turlington at the Apple Watch launch event.
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Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


Jobs once said that making things with “a great deal of care and love” is ultimately the thing that “keeps Apple, Apple,” and Cook has said that he believes Jobs’ vision lives on everywhere at Apple.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook prepares a keynote presentation.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider