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“What would Steve do?” The mantra rings throughout Silicon Valley as Tim

Cook rides the whirlwind.

 

“You've seen your birth, your life and death,” Jim Morrison wrote. “You might recall all of the rest. Did you have a good world when you died? Enough to base a movie on?"

“He’s led a big enough life for more than one movie,” says Moneyball screenwriter Aaron Sorkin of the late, great Apple co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs. Sorkin is currently researching the upcoming film based on Walter Isaacson’s mega-hot Jobs biography.

When Morrison indeed did die, there was no second act for The Doors because there was nobody to replace him. But Jobs handpicked his successor, Tim Cook, “the trim, soft-spoken, Alabama-born CEO of Apple,” wrote Virginia Heffernan of Yahoo News, adding he is “to the guilty delight of everyone . . . not Steve Jobs.”

Billy Beane, who succeeded the architect of the A’s World Champion Bash Brothers, Sandy Alderson, and like Jobs created in his field of baseball a new paradigm Sorkin masterfully captured in Moneyball, offered while it was “flattering” to be asked, it is “beyond my pay grade to give advice to someone ready to run the most successful company in the world.”

Ah, there’s the rub.

Apple is the most successful company in the world, a uniquely American success story that could not have happened in any other country. A totally one-of-a-kind product of a 1970s garage culture equal parts Military Industrial Complex, Berkeley acid trip, Indian ashram, and liberal Democrat, featuring a work ethic putting to shame the most Calvinistic Puritan, up-from-the-bootstraps conservative. In other words, completely and totally impossible to replicate much less replace. This may be why if you have passed any airport news stand or big city magazine kiosk over the last nine months, you likely have seen some publication or another telling you, in one phrase or another, “Why Tim Cook will fail.”

The road maps for Cook’s journey are few if any, just as the future Jobs envisioned in the early 1970s had no template. Coca-Cola? Just keep the formula locked up and don’t try New Coke again. Kentucky Fried Chicken? If it tasted different from the way it did in 1980 you’d not go back. The 49ers dynasty? It helps when Joe Montana can pass it on to Steve Young and George Seifert just rolls out Bill Walsh’s playbook. But for every Young taking over for Montana (“keep throwin’ to Jerry”) or Seifert taking over from Walsh, there are 1,000 Gene Bartows struggling in the shadow of John Wooden; Andrew Johnsons trying to carry on Abraham Lincoln’s legacy; or Bobby Murcers battling the term “next Mickey Mantle.”

Because Apple Computer and the Silicon Valley tech world they created are a modern Frankenstein. They cannot just keep making iPads and iPhones and Macs. They have to re-invent the world about, oh, every six months or so. Maybe a year. This is a company whose very ethos is humanistically messianic. They publicly proclaim that they and only they can change the world. Jobs did not have employees, he had apostles.

“People choose to come to Apple to do the best work of their lives, to make a difference in the lives of so many people around the world,” proclaims Cook. “The products we make can fundamentally change the world. I can’t think of a better reason of getting up in the morning.”

Never since Lincoln’s day has America been so divided, yet the nation’s biggest conservative, Rush Limbaugh, says of the liberal Jobs he “epitomized American Exceptionalism. His life epitomized it. His philosophies epitomized American Exceptionalism.”

What are the chances that Tim Cook will excite the likes of Rush Limbaugh like that? Will such a transformative figure ever emerge on these shores, in our lifetime? Will growing government intervention, regulation and taxation make such a thing impossible to duplicate? Jobs left behind a legacy that demands astonishing innovation utterly blowing people away. This business is insanity personified. A new, wondrous product is required yearly and the public excoriates failure. There is zero goodwill, only a consumptive consumer that considers these new gizmos like sexual awakenings. Another talk host, Michael Savage, describes seeing young women talking to cell phone counselors about their phone needs like confessioners to a priest, or better yet, sex counselors.

Isaacson’s book is one of the most probing, detailed character studies ever done. Jobs was as complex a human being as can be found. Here was a lifetime Democrat who lived the very essence of liberal hypocrisy, running Apple way, way to the right of any . . . Right-winger. Jobs mandated the way everybody else had to live, what their social “responsibilities” were, but made absolutely no attempt to apply these traits to himself. He was a total narcissist, literally the kind of guy who thought it okay to drive recklessly in order to get to his destination on time despite the danger to others because his presence was that important. His messiah complex was such that he saw himself as so far above others, so important, that it did not matter how poorly he treated employees, how hard he slave-drove them, how awful he acted, because the ends justified the means. Left without the restrictions of decent society this is the kind of man who becomes Pol Pot.

When French President Francois Mitterrand’s Socialist wife Danielle toured the Apple facility in the 1980s, she was utterly aghast at the fact haggard, unshaven, unshowered workers were toiling away in 90-hour work weeks, often going all night, denied sleep, more resembling Jews in Egyptian bondage. She wanted to know how many vacation days they were allowed. Jobs just looked at her like she was nuts, but supported politicians who force businesses to sacrifice profit in favor of generous employee benefits . . . so long as he, like Congressmen supporting Obamacare while getting waivers from its reach, are exempted. He told President Barack Obama he was killing America with onerous regulations and threat of high taxes, yet offered before his 2011 passing to orchestrate his ad campaign.

This kind of duel personality cannot be duplicated. There is probably no other company on Earth so totally driven to succeed by the sheer will of one man, and no matter how intelligent, dedicated and prepared is Tim Cook, the one-in-a-million aspects of Jobs’s character, the essence of why Apple rose and then rose again, cannot be taught. 

There is a sense that to have survived under Jobs to the point where he is today, the head of Apple is comparable to an old Soviet premier emerging from the Stalinist purges. Despite The Lord of the Flies atmosphere at 1 Infinite Loop, Isaacson said there was “no doubt” Cook would take over.

Cook “realized very early that if you didn't voice your own opinion, he would mow you down. He takes contrary positions to create more discussion, because it may lead to a better result. So if you don't feel comfortable disagreeing, then you'll never survive.”           

“There is no one better at turning off the noise that is going on around him,” Cook told Walter Isaacson. “That allows him to focus on a few things and say no to many things. Few people are really good at that.”

Isaacson wrote of Jobs-as-Caesar, “Remember you will die,” which Roman emperors had slaves remind them of in order to “help the hero keep things in perspective, instill some humility.”

Remember you will die? Jobs turned from Jesus Christ as a teenager when he showed photos of starving African kids to his pastor and was unsatisfied with a God who could allow such a thing. The last thing his of kind personality would accept is the responsibility of Original Sin, which transfers such responsibility on humans, and therefore on him. When death did loom, in the form of pancreatic cancer suffered despite a lifetime of politically correct vegetarianism, “He came back on a mission,” Cook recalled of Job’s final campaign.

Cook, who Isaacson asserts is “as cool as Steve,” shares the messianic view of high tech, stating that the iPad “opens the developed world,” repeats his predecessor’s mantra that the “Joy is in the journey,” but justifies Apple’s ceding of manufacturing to Red China, which President Obama would call “treacherous” if they were conservatives. Recently, Apple decided to adhere to San Francisco’s green tech requirements. This is the sort of liberal-regulation-feel-good-accomplish-little thing Jobs would have required the rest of the world do, but not do himself. After initially rejecting it, Cook gave in to Left-wing criticism and agreed. What would Steve do? 

“Can't comment, don't have an opinion, don't know facts, and don't know and won't guess about Jobs,” says his old friend and apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Or what?

“We can’t be the developer for the world,” Cook says, taking lessons from the patent-raiding wars between Microsoft, Apple, the old copying from IBM and other companies, that fueled both Apple and Microsoft in the first place (justified by Jobs because he did it, not somebody else). Cook views patent-holders as having a responsibility to make their products “available” to the world. He’ll lose to China on this view. He thinks he can avoid “competition” yet is up against a brutal competitor that still glorifies posters of Chairman Mao Tse-tung, murderer of 55 million human beings, as if somehow the goodwill emanating from Cupertino will make the Communists like him. Cook is too decent a person to lie and create the “reality distortion field” like Jobs.

Addressing an Apple special event, Cook was enthusiastic and informative, yet far below the Jobs standards of presentation. Everything was “revolutionary,” the “best on the planet,” recalled Fred Balin, who worked with Jobs when he returned from exile in the 1990s.

“When you saw Steve on stage unveiling an item, he would announce, ‘Oh, wait, there’s one more thing,’ then he would introduce the latest Mac, or iPhone, or iPad, or whatever. They’d lift the curtain, raise the product on the platform from below the ground, he gazed at it, and he had a way of making everybody want it, they just had to have it, even if you knew he was blowing smoke. He made them the number one brand in the world.”

 

So what is next?

“Advances so far since Steve’s death have been incremental,” says Balin. “Now they have released the MacBook Pro. It’s now in distribution and looks interesting. This is a return to the high-powered graphics for people in design fields. Is it revolutionary? No. What will be the next thing that is really different? There are rumors of Apple TV merging and becoming the next wave TV.”

“Is it possible to totally get rid of keyboards, and create ‘think’ products where your thoughts are on the computer, voice capability, where the whole migration to computing paradigm gets away from big hard drives where all is backed up, and having people mobile in ‘clouds?’ ” asks Apple freelance technical consultant Dale Komai rhetorically. “How secure are these invisible 'clouds,' what is the risk of clandestine hackers?”

Komai adds that drone and military surveillance technology, anathema to Jobs and probably disdained by Cook, will drive the future. Arthur Herman’s column in the July 24 Wall Street Journal asked, “What If Apple designed an iFighter?” All of this is fraught with peril. If Apple starts making “smart bombs” their base will cry they are “sell outs.”

“TV will become a computer track, a delineation on how people take sports in,” says famed agent Leigh Steinberg, the Alvin Toffler of professional sports. “People born before 1965 want to watch it on TV with advances on HDTV, big screens. TV means games that are sharper, crisper, more real than before. The younger generation just wants content and will watch it on a mobile phone. Their definition on how they receive information is different.”

             “There’s nothing wrong with the Apple TV, but there’s also no real need for it,” asserts San Francisco Chronicle technical writer David Einstein.

 “He's always believed that thin is beautiful,” says Cook. “You can see that in all the work. We have the thinnest notebook, the thinnest smartphone, and we made the iPad thin and then even thinner.”

“The future is the next generation of MacBook Pro,” says senior V.P. Phil Schiller. “It is simply the best computer Apple has ever made.”

“We’re announcing exciting new changes in our Notebook line-up,” adds Cook. “This includes iCloud and new a notification center, which is the best OS10 yet.”

These assertions, the risky reliance in iClouds working and taking control of the future like Chinatown’s John Huston character controlling L.A.’s water supply, are just that: risky. Calling something “the best” that Apple ever made can lead to real disappointment.

Limbaugh bought his iPad and was “eager to get home and take a look at it. I didn’t bother looking at it until I had fully restored and had it ready and up and running. And when I turned it on after it was restored, I looked at the screen. I went to different places. I checked some high-definition movies. I just looked at various websites, apps that had been optimized for the new display. And it wasn’t as good, I thought, as they said.” On July 25 the Wall Street Journal reported “a rare earnings disappointment” of iPhones.

"When you can't stop something like a steamroller," Steve Wozniak asserts, "get out of the way,” adding “the company's technology is so good it will probably never be a victim of its own success by becoming uncool . . . Of course there's always a chance - and there's also a chance that it will become twice as successful because of its success."

"He was in complete control and knew exactly who he was and where he

wanted to go," one of Apple’s investors said of Cook after their big June seminar. "He answered every question head-on and didn't skirt any issue."

“Here's what's most remarkable about Cook's appearance that day last

winter: Steve Jobs wouldn't have bothered,” wrote Fortune’s Adam Lasinsky of Cook. “The legendary company co-founder, who stepped down as Apple's CEO last August 24, six weeks before his death, rarely deigned to meet with investors.

It was a “personal blow” to Cook when the New York Times detailed “bleak” working conditions at the China plant they tasked to manufacture Apple products, hearkening to the old “do as I say not as I do” hypocrisy; but of course, Danielle Mitterrand would argue conditions in Cupertino were bleak, too.

“Focus is key,” says Cook when asked the biggest lesson he learned from Jobs.

Siri is the principal way of selling the iPhone 4S (which has glitches; it’s only been around since October). He says “customers love it,” but acknowledges “there’s more that we can do” and “We’re doubling down on it.”

Limbaugh believes it was Jobs’s, and now Cook’s, goal to “kill Google,” who is releasing Nexus 7 to compete with iPad. “Apple wants to make Google searches irrelevant.” He also criticized the interface Thunderbolt. “Jobs hated Android,” he added, on air. Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal wrote Google is, “Tired of watching in frustration as its popular Android mobile operating system failed to make much of a dent in the tablet market.”

Apple shares recently dropped nearly 27 percent, from a daily average of 26.7 million in the second quarter of 2010 to a daily average of 19.6 million in the second quarter of 2012.

 “It is difficult to imagine a harder challenge” than the one the 51-year old Cook faces, asserts no less a luminary than former Vice President and Apple board member Albert Gore, Jr. But tech writer Wolfgang Gruener recently wrote a piece titled “Will Tim Cook Become the Next Steve Ballmer?” This is an interesting premise, and perhaps shows not just why Jobs was smarter than Bill Gates, but why Apple now runs wings around Microsoft.

“They were almost dead in 1997,” says Fred Balin, who was there at the time. “Time magazine was calling it a ‘death of an icon.’ Sun, IBM; neither would buy them. At that time Apple had $2 billion in market capitalization, Microsoft had $150 billion. Microsoft had to invest in Apple.

“The war had been lost. Apple had defined the user experience but Microsoft adapted it, incrementally perfected it, then won the entire battle of the marketplace. Steve was in the wilderness for 10 years.

“Two years ago Apple passed Microsoft in market capitalization at $225 billion, now at $400 billion. Microsoft at the same time was experiencing its first quarterly loss.”

In this we see why Jobs, who always loved Steve Wozniak, nevertheless saw limitations in his youthful friend, while Gates entrusted all to his old pal Ballmer. Gruener added that Cook was “the genius backing Steve Jobs at Apple for the past 13 years.”

Isaacson wrote that late in his life somebody suggested Apple was “becoming the next Microsoft, complacent and arrogant.” It was Cook who “was able to shake him out of lethargy.”

“You could see him brighten every time the talk turned to Apple,” said Cook

 

“To expect in the mind's eye, that a Steve Jobs whose no longer with us was a brilliant visionary, but to say he never made a mistake, that he never had problems with employees, there's a tendency of euphoric recall, to deify the person whose no longer there, this is a very difficult standard to live up to, that Steve would have done this and would have done that . . .” says Leigh Steinberg. “Jobs had plenty of flaws, so my advice is he has a fresh opportunity to re-imagine what Apple is as a company. To find future potential markets and bring a fresh look to that. Cook ought not be intimidated by past successes because the world of innovation is a world where every form of how they dispense content is continually updated.

“The world of creativity has to imagine the next 10 years instead of being stuck in the past heritage and success of the company. Cook must strike his own path. I understand he's in an unenviable position. His predecessor was on the cover of Time and his passing has been glorified, deservingly so.

“What Cook requires is the internal fortitude and self confidence to chart one's own path while being sensitive to the legacy of his predecessor, but still be deferential. But the point is in the tech field innovation occurs so rapidly four months pass and it's ancient history. If Jobs lived he'd have faced the same challenge.”

Indeed, Cook's philosophy is summarized by President Lincoln: "I will prepare, and someday my chance will come."

 

Steven Travers is a USC graduate and ex-pro baseball player who is the author of 20 books, including One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation and The Last Icon, Tom Seaver and His Times. His web page is http://redroom.com/member/steven-robert-travers and he can be reached at USCSTEVE1@aol.com.