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Former Apple exec: Tim Cook a ‘loner’, ‘poor judge of character’

If you thought Tim Cook was a more affable, cuddly replacement for Steve Jobs, think again. According to a former Apple executive, life under the Apple CEO is pretty tough.

David Sobotta, who was a sales executive for the Cupertino-based giant between 1984 and 2004, recently released a book called The Pomme Company.

Apple reportedly took issue with the book, and its legal department sent him a letter that left him felling “extremely upset” and ready to abandon the project.

An additional taste of how difficult things can be at the company comes from the fact that three current Apple employees declined permission for use of their pictures in a photo for the book. “When you work in Apple’s sales division, the company owns your soul and your image,” says the book’s Amazon description.

In an email to ReadWrite’s Dan Lyons, Sobotta elaborates on what it’s like to work under Cook. In it, he calls Cook a “loner”, a “poor judge of character” and a tech lightweight.

Here are some of the extracts Lyons chose to take from the email:

Not a people person

“Well, for starters, Cook is not a people person,” Sobotta writes. “He certainly will not stand behind someone if the going gets rough. He is not that kind of guy. I sense no personal loyalty in him, and I suspect employees already understand that.

“Tim will react to the numbers or his fear of being wrong quickly. Fear of being wrong is a managerial trait that runs strong and deep in Apple because of the way Steve ran the company. Even the appearance of being wrong when in the end you might be right is dreaded at Apple.

“You don’t make mistakes at Apple and get a second chance. That often hinders decision-making and creates a lot of passive-aggressiveness between teams that should be cooperating.”

A poor judge of character

“I haven’t followed the saga of the new retail guy so he might have been a terrible hire, but that would also fit the Cook pattern. The people I saw him hire were not good ones. I don’t think he relates well to people. Based on some of the people he has stuck with, I think he is poor judge of character.

“Apple never had a disciplined way of making decisions. It was always whoever got Steve’s ear that won. Certain people always had the inside track. Likely the way to win now at Apple is to blow in Tim’s ear.”

Tim on tech

“Technology-wise, I think Tim Cook is a lightweight. I never felt passion for technology from Tim like I did from Steve and some of the great engineers.”

A manager, not a leader

“I would expect that Tim is having a hard time herding the chickens. From what I saw of him, he was something of a loner. He is not a warm guy nor is he the type to go wandering the halls or Caffe Mac to find out what is happening. His preference is to tinker with spreadsheets and numbers. He is not a natural leader. He’s a manager.

“From what I saw, Tim is the kind of guy who would just fire some folks rather than try to sort out what is working and what isn’t working. I never felt like he wanted to get down into the details unless they were numbers. I also think he can easily be swayed by someone who protects him from the messy parts of running a company.”

The painful part

“I use Mountain Lion and Windows 7 both every day. Windows works better. It pains me to say that. I would rate Apple’s screwing around with the ‘Save As’ command [Apple removed ‘Save As’ from OS X Lion but restored it, sort of, in Mountain Lion] as one of the dumbest user-interface decisions in the history of computing. I’m not sure pulling DVD drives out of iMacs is much better. Certainly the maps decision [in iOS 6] will haunt Apple for a long time.

“It is going to get worse at Apple. It is not a sustainable business culture.”

Apres Steve, Le Deluge?

“There are three factors that I see, the first being the business culture within the company. While the company needs strong leadership after Steve Jobs, anyone at Apple will tell you that taking risks and showing leadership (rocking the boat, trying something new) are not encouraged. With an environment like that, strong leaders end up butting their heads against the wall, and either leave on their on accord or get asked to leave. The company has a strong ‘manage up’ culture so it is not unusual for Apple managers to not really have a clue what is happening in their customer base.

“Second, Apple doesn’t develop its own talent. The company has a strong propensity to hire folks from outside the company. The new folks come in, spend a year figuring which end is up, and end being very frustrated. [The experience is] demoralizing to the people who now report to them and who already knew what their bosses just spent a year learning. It is a horrendous way to run a company.”

What’s the next great thing?

“The third is that Apple is a `next great thing’ company, and that in and of itself is unsustainable. They haven’t found the next great thing after the iPad and iPhone, and their shares in both those areas are slipping. Of course they are ignoring traditional computers to a large extent.

“I could add a fourth [factor] related to the third point, but it’s debatable. Always in the past when Apple screwed up or got too cocky, they could fall back on a core group of `prosumers’ who were dedicated to Apple’s products. I think Apple has lost or is in the process of losing those folks, but I have no way to measure that other than I know a fair number of folks like myself that are no longer Apple products evangelists.

“I got a note from [a former Apple colleague] last night that it was time to replace his wife’s MacBook and he offered to get her whatever she wanted. She chose Lenovo.”

Given the nature of Sobatta’s book, such claims will invariably suit him perfectly. He does however offer the unique perspective of someone who’s been buried deep within the reality distortion field that Apple creates and has since come out.

Hearing the complaints that some loyal Apple fans have expressed in the post Jobs era echoed and, in some cases, amplified by a former employee only strengthens their case.

No one’s doubting Apple’s business-savvy under Tim Cook, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that a fairly large chunk of the magic’s gone missing.

Author | Stuart Thomas

Stuart Thomas
Stuart is the editor-in-chief of Engage Me Online. After pursuing an MA in South African literature, he spent five years reporting on the global technology scene. Intrigued by the intersection of technology and work, he joined Engage Me as the editor-in-chief. He is a passionate runner, and recently ran... More
  • I can see clearly why Tim Cook would be upset with his book. If it’s true, that would be suggesting Tim Cook is both a poor manager and leader.

  • rmcopt

    Tim Cook is poor leader, a terrible people person, and a novice at running Apple. From public perception, look at the massive blunders he has had since Jobs: Key management departures, manufacturing delays, labor disputes, wage allegations multiple missed product delivery dates, massive iPhone 5 delays, poor IOS introductions with massive system faults and failures, highest ever customer complaints and product dissatisfaction, huge warranty returns and replacements, slower product sales, poor product coordination (iPods), over saturated product groups (iPods, iPads, iMacs). Tim Cook is not not only a poor manager … he is not a visionary like Jobs was. Being a visionary is not something that you learn on the job, it is something you are born with.

  • That’s Right..

    Don’t blame Mr Cook for the theif that steve BlowJobs was.. Tim is merely walking through the dung that the former Apple CEO created..

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