How Tim Cook Passed the Test With Flying Colors

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A year ago, I worried aloud what kind of leader Apple’s Tim Cook might be. Still emerging from the death of Steve Jobs, there was a great deal of concern whether he could pick up the mantle of “pied piper,” who offered the vision.

When I talked about last year’s product launches, I said:

The question remains — and this is something that I’ve discussed before — can Tim Cook help champion transformative products at Apple, or is he merely the executor of Steve Jobs’ corporate last will and testament? After three years on the job, the products released by Apple still appear to have the imprimatur of Steve Jobs on them. There are no “Tim Cook” products from Apple yet.
What a difference a year makes.
After last week’s product launches of the iPhone 6 family, the introduction of the Apple Watch, and the roll out of Apple Pay, it’s safe to say that Tim Cook may even surpass the height that Steve Jobs brought back to Apple when he returned from his exile in the wilderness.

Various Apple product launches have had the flirtatious coyness of a bull charging though a china shop and Apple executives have been called to task when their presentations were merely interesting. The big win for Apple is not the latest iPhones or the watch, but Apply Pay, which will fund Apple’s technological desire to dominate for decades to come.

In the end, products come and go. A friend of mine still has the original Apple Macintosh he bought in 1985 as a college graduation gift, only two years after it was launched to eager eyes. Today it’s found in his backyard, repurposed as a birdhouse, perhaps the most expensive birdhouse in Northern California.

Apple Pay will pay dividends for decades.

Apple Pay makes it easier and safer to use your iPhone to make face to face purchases. If you walk into a Starbucks, with a wave of your phone you can walk away with your latte. Merchants love it because it increases the speed at the point of sale and allows baristas to handle more orders and generate more income.

Card members and bankcard issuers also like it because instead of using 1960’s technology to fight 21st century cyber crime, Apple replaces the magstripe on the back of your card with Apple’s Touch ID biometric technology, which authenticates the shopper at the point of sale. The merchant has a NFC (Near Field Communication) reader which captures the data coming from your iPhone. The transaction is completed away from the prying eyes of a lot of bad guys.

That’s not to say that some Russian teenager will figure out how to infiltrate the security apparatus that Apple and a number of other companies have created. The most dangerous place for credit card fraud — until the various data breaches that started with Target — has been at the point of sale. What Apple Pay does is that it reduces the window of vulnerability for Cardmembers, Merchants and Acquirers (the bank whose name is on your bankcard) so that everybody can use 21st century security to fight 21st century fraud.

Why is Apple able to succeed while others have missed the mark?
For the past decade, American banks and merchants have been dragging their feet on EMV conversion, where a “chip and pin” approach replaces the good ol’ magstripe with a chip and PIN approach, something that is old hat in Europe. It took the earth-shattering data breaches that began with Target and exploded outward to include Home Depot to get the attention of “foot draggers” everywhere.

Various other companies like Google have tried to launch their wallets and after a noisy start, they have stumbled and laid off people.

Apple has succeeded because the brand inspires unquestionable trust in those who are loyal for the past three decades. Apple Pay was not launched in a vacuum, but stood on the shoulder of other game-changing product demonstrations as far back as the original Macintosh launch in 1984. There have been a few missteps, but they were during the non-Jobs years.

However, Tim Cook brings something new to the table that even Jobs himself lacked. As you read through the Walter Isaacson biography on Steve Jobs, one cannot help but come away with the realization in the later chapters, that Tim Cook cleaned up more than his share of tantrums that emanated from Steve Jobs.

But Steve Jobs could serve as his own worst enemy. He painted himself into a corner and that diminished the game changing nature of many of his products. The original Macintosh was underpowered and extremely overpriced. At NeXT, factory walls were repainted as Jobs capriciously felt they fell a shade short. His monumental rages unhinged those around him and his inability to “play with others” probably cost him his job during his first tour at Apple.

With Tim Cook, Apple has discovered that a wiser temperament at the top produces better products for your customers. And that is how you build a company that can inspire for generations. He made Apple his own.

And that is how Tim Cook passed the test.

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