Austin Carr and Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg, today published a lengthy investigation of Tim Cook’s tenure at Apple. From his earlier years building out Apple’s supply chain under Steve Jobs, to more recent times navigating the Trump presidency and the building antitrust pressure, the article is well researched and very worth a read. Without explicitly taking a stance, Carr and Gurman highlight both positive and negative aspects of Cook’s level-headed approach to piloting the company. I found some of the descriptions of Cook’s early manufacturing moves particularly interesting:
Cook’s global supply chain greatly improved upon the fabrication approaches that Dell and Compaq had developed. The big PC brands often outsourced both manufacturing and significant design decisions, resulting in computers that were cheap but not distinctive. Cook’s innovation was to force Foxconn and others to adapt to the extravagant aesthetic and quality specifications demanded by Jobs and industrial design head Jony Ive. Apple engineers crafted specialized manufacturing equipment and traveled frequently to China, spending long hours not in conference rooms as their PC counterparts did but on production floors hunting for hardware refinements and bottlenecks on the line.
Contract manufacturers worked with all the big electronics companies, but Cook set Apple apart by spending big to buy up next-generation parts years in advance and striking exclusivity deals on key components to ensure Apple would get them ahead of rivals.
The article also focuses on the stark contrast of manufacturing prowess between the U.S. and China, including Chinese manufacturer Foxconn’s ability to spin up brand new facilities in mere months:
[Foxconn founder Terry] Gou always seemed happy to accommodate, often building entire factories to handle whatever minimalist-chic design specs Apple threw at Foxconn. Jon Rubinstein, a senior vice president for hardware engineering during Jobs’s second tour at Apple, recalls almost having a heart attack in 2005 when he went with Gou to see a new factory in Shenzhen for the iPod Nano—a tiny device 80% smaller than Apple’s original MP3 player—only to find an empty field. Within months, though, a large structure and production line were in place. “In the U.S. you couldn’t even get the permits approved in that time frame,” he says.
Check out the full contents over at Bloomberg.