Apple Leadership: a brief overview

By John Dudovskiy
July 3, 2023

During Steve Jobs era that covers the period 1997 – 2011, Apple leadership was autocratic with Steve Jobs micro-managing a wide range of business operations. It has been noted that “when Steve Jobs was in charge, everything flowed through him.”[1] Apple leadership practices have changed dramatically under Tim Cook.


Apple Leadership


Acknowledged as the World’s Greatest Leader by Fortune Magazine[2], Tim Cook proved to be effective from various perspectives. Moreover, Tim Cook has been praised by employees for inspirational leadership and helping his subordinates to become a better human being.[3] The multinational technology company is parting with perfectionism and autocracy elements of leadership that had prevailed under Steve Jobs.

Apple leadership style integrates the following elements:

1. Democratic leadership style. In contrast to highly autocratic leadership style of Apple co-founder and late CEO Steve Jobs, the current CEO Tim Cook exercises and promotes democratic leadership. For Cook, it is important to build consensus among senior management regarding strategic decisions for the ebusiness. Moreover, since assuming the top role, Cook granted greater autonomy to new product development team, decreasing the direct participation of the CEO in new product development process.

2. “Quiet” leadership. Tim Cook has been praised for his quiet, yet effective leadership style. Nicknamed as “quiet leader” by some industry analysts[4], Cook is totally different from his charismatic predecessor, Steve Jobs.

At the same time, Tim Cook is occasionally criticized by analysts and industry watchers for the lack of ambition and vigour, his predecessor Steve Jobs had. For example, according to a report by BGC financial services firm, “under Cook, Apple has been cautious about entering new product categories. The Apple Watch, launched in April 2015, is the No. 1 smartwatch, but overall sales have disappointed. Apple Music, which debuted in June 2015, has grown rapidly to 15 million subscribers, but it’s seen as a low-margin business.”[5]

Under late Steve Jobs the tech giant introduced a number of industry-changing iconic products and services such as iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, App Store and iPad. His successor the current CEO Tim Cook, on the other hand, managed to launch only Apple Watch, iPad Mini and iPad Retina and  Apple TV Plus subscription service.

After the departure of Steve Jobs Apple stock price has enjoyed a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.8% over the 11-year period. However, no industry-changing new product such iPhone or iTunes were introduced during the same period. Some analysts associate this difference with lack of visionary leadership by Tim Cook.

Reliance on technical experts rather than general managers on decision making is an interesting principle of leadership of Apple. In other words, being competent in managing people and work processes and ability to meet numerical targets are not sufficient to be given decision making powers in key domains. There is logic behind this principle. The company operates in the industry where product life cycle is very short and the rates of technological change and disruption are high. There is no time to get thorough market feedback and market forecasts in new product development practices and Apple has to make bets which technologies, services and designs are likely to succeed.

Accordingly, the tech giant relies more on its technical experts compared to general managers even for strategic decision-making and most managers are experts. The company believes that it is easier to train experts to become managers than to train managers to become experts. Therefore, deep expertise in their function is a key requirement for managerial positions at Apple. Leadership practices at the company have been dubbed as ‘experts lead experts’[6].

Apple Inc. Report contains the above analysis of Apple leadership. The report illustrates the application of the major analytical strategic frameworks in business studies such as SWOT, PESTEL, Porter’s Five Forces, Value Chain analysis, Ansoff Matrix and McKinsey 7S Model on Apple. Moreover, the report contains analyses of Apple business strategy, organizational structure and organizational culture. The report also comprises discussions of Apple marketing strategy, ecosystem and addresses issues of corporate social responsibility.

[1] Yarrow, J. (2013) Apple’s New Organizational Structure Could Help It Move Faster, Business Insider, Available at:

[2]Lashinsky, A (2015) “Apple’s Tim Cook leads different” Fortune, Available at:

[3] Bort, J. (2015) “Apple’s HR chief: Working with Tim Cook ‘actually helps you to be a better human being’” Business Insider, Available at:

[4] Bradshaw, T. (2013) “Tim Cook: Apple’s quiet leader” Financial Times, Available at:

[5] Seitz, P. (2016) “Apple Could Use New CEO Leadership, Analyst Suggests” Investor’s Business Daily, Available at:

[6] Podolny J.M. & Hansen, M.T. (2020) “How Apple Is Organized for Innovation” Harvard Business Review, Available at:


Category: Leadership