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Is Tim Cook the Man to Lead Apple?

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Apple's stock is $504, down from a high this year of $705.The Motley Fool asks "Is Tim Cook The Next Steve Ballmer?" which is not meant as a compliment. Bob Lefsetz, a blogger and music industry veteran, calls Tim Cook "charisma-challenged," and "he starts to speak and credibility goes out the window." He states that Apple is not telling its story as it should given the competitive threats of Samsung and Google.

The attacks on Cook boil down to a critique on his leadership abilities. Can Tim Cook lead Apple, currently the world's largest corporation? What type of leadership does Apple need?

In organizational psychology there is a school of thought that leaders are either "transformational" or "transactional." The late Steve Jobs was clearly a transformational leader, one who inspired and influenced his company through force of personality and vision. This type of leadership led to industry disruptive products such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, and saw the stock go from $4 to $400 during his second tenure.

A transactional leader is more of a manager, less driven to produce "black swan" breakthroughs and more focused on keeping things working through structure and incremental change.

It's safe to say that Tim Cook is a transactional leader. But is that what Apple needs today? I believe the answer is yes, for two reasons.

First, much of the success of Apple over the last decade has been a direct result of a huge internal change put in practice by Tim Cook.

When Cook arrived at Apple he instituted a principle developed by author and consultant George Stack called "time based competition," which emphasizes time as the most important factor in the design, manufacturing, and marketing of products to consumers. You produce things fast, and you get them to market fast. Cook was responsible for driving this principle across Apple.

Unlike Dell Computer or HP, all of Apple's current products can fit on a conference table, thereby saving resources while enabling focus and saving time. Apple can refresh its products quicker than its competitors, because it keeps such a forward thinking supply chain. Apple locks down supplies far in advance (sometimes even financing factories for its vendors) and even bulk reserves air freight to maintain a time advantage. Apple integrated manufacturing with distribution through the Apple Stores. All these processes give Apple a huge, time based, advantage.

George Stack stated in Competing Against Time that "for every quartering of the time interval required to provide a service or product, the productivity of labor and of working capital can often double." Cook is not leveraging debt, as many companies do, he is leveraging time.

This is the reason you can order an engraved iPod and have it delivered to your house from China in three days.

The second reason Tim Cook is the appropriate leader for Apple right now has to do not so much with new product innovation, but new markets. Actually, one market, China.

Tim Cook has repeatedly stated Apple's future lies in selling goods to China and their emerging middle class. If this indeed is Apple's future, then the most important task for Apple is getting its already proven products to market there. And the best way to do that is to take the lead that time-based competition has already given them, and extend that competitive edge into China.

Competing using time through the design, manufacturing, and marketing cycles isn't as sexy as a Steve Jobs keynote, but it is what enabled Steve Jobs' triumphs and will drive Apple's future. Let Phil Schiller make the speeches and Jony Ive dream up beautiful designs, but Apple's future is Tim Cook.