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Why Iovine could be Apple's secret weapon

Jimmy Iovine
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Jimmy Iovine

It is possible that one of the most valuable assets Apple is acquiring is neither Beats Electronics, nor its small online-streaming service, but its co-founder Jimmy Iovine.

He's not as well known outside the music industry as producer and hip-hop artist Dr. Dre, but Iovine has had a long career working alongside legendary acts and mentoring musicians.

Iovine began his career sweeping floors at a New York studio and bringing John Lennon his tea, according to a recent profile in the New York Times. In the 1970s, he worked as a sound engineer on albums for Lennon and Bruce Springsteen, and he later went on to produce for artists such as Patti Smith and U2.

He co-founded Interscope Records in 1989. The label is home to numerous artists that include Eminem, Maroon 5, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, and, of course, Beats' co-founder Dr. Dre.

He also acted as producer on films, including Eminem's "8 Mile" and rapper 50 Cent's "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," and he's mentored numerous acts on "American Idol."

Like Dr. Dre, Iovine is known as a perfectionist, and as a producer has a reputation for pushing the musicians hard to record the best possible versions of themselves, according to his New York Times profile.

Read MoreBeats buy adds products, 'cool factor' to Apple

But he is also known as a visionary. Iovine pushed Interscope to pursue hip-hop artists in the early 1990s, foreseeing the genre would go mainstream. His enthusiasm for the music—criticized for its strong language—bred controversy. Interscope parent Time Warner finally sold the label to Universal Music Group in 1995.

But Iovine's strategy worked—Interscope became one of the largest music labels in the United States. Until recently, Iovine served as its chairman—he will be replaced in that role as he takes the job at Apple.

Iovine said in an interview with AllThingsD last year he had even pitched the idea of a streaming music service to Steve Jobs in 2003, but Jobs was reportedly cool on the idea. Now, Iovine will head up Apple's streaming business and go head-to- head with giants such as Pandora and Spotify.

Read More5 things to know about Apple's duet with Beats

With Iovine, Apple is getting a man who can not only spot trends, but who has built a lot of credibility music industry—something that will serve Apple well in the difficult negotiations for streaming music contracts.

—By CNBC's Robert Ferris.

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