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New Apple CEO: 'You Can't Plan for a Predictable Life'

Steve Jobs' successor as chief executive of Apple, Tim Cook, quoted Abraham Lincoln last year while addressing students at his alma mater, Auburn University, saying: "I will prepare and some day my chance will come."

Apple COO Tim Cook
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Apple COO Tim Cook

That day arrived Wednesday for Cook, He has yet to display any of the showmanship that characterized his predecessor's tenure, and that has left some questioning whether he has the vision or genius necessary to guide the maker of the iPhone to even more success.

One key element that may help the 50-year-old ensure success is the care with which Apple has managed the succession process.

After all, he has been acting chief executive for most of this year, and has run the company for substantial periods during Jobs's treatment for pancreatic cancer. During his first spell in charge of the company, Apple's share price hit then near-record highs and issued a steady stream of product updates, including the iPhone OS 3, the iPhone 3GS, and the unveiling of OS X Snow Leopard.

While there were some whispers that Apple’s head of design, Jonathan Ive, might take over from Jobs earlier in the process, it has been clear for a couple of years that Cook would take the reins. Analysts said that Cook is a "capable" successor.

Cook is also behind Apple's careful management of its supply chain, which is as much a key part of its success along with snazzy designs.

However, he will need to make sure that he holds on to the skilled designers who have helped make the Apple family of computers and phones some of the most desirable consumer goods on the planet.

"The question is, can he retain that second layer of executives that are below him and Steve Jobs? Will they be pinchable by some of Apple's competitors?" Dan Frommer, founder of tech website SplatF, told CNBC Thursday.

Art Levinson, chairman of Genentech and member of Apple's board, said Wednesday: “The Board has complete confidence that Tim is the right person to be our next CEO.

“Tim’s 13 years of service to Apple have been marked by outstanding performance, and he has demonstrated remarkable talent and sound judgment in everything he does.”

Cook graduated from Auburn, in Alabama, with a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering in 1982 and earned his M.B.A. at Duke University, where he was a Fuqua Scholar.

Fuqua Dean Blair Sheppard described him as a model student to The Chronicle, the Duke newspaper. "[Cook] was considered a leader, and he was a really, really good student--well-liked by his peers, always prepared, tough but fair," Sheppard said. "We would have predicted good things for him."

Returning to Auburn to give its commencement speech last year, the softly-spoken Cook thanked Jobs and Apple for his success, along with his parents and teachers, and said the most important decision he has ever made was leaving Compaq to join Apple. At the former company, Cook worked as vice president of corporate materials, responsible for procuring and managing all of Compaq’s inventory.

He also spoke about the importance of intuition and told students that "you can't plan for a predictable life."

Before joining Compaq, Cook was the chief operating officer of the Reseller Division at Intelligent Electronics, after spending 12 years with IBM .

It's hard to believe when considering Apple's share price now – the company's market capitalization recently surpassed that of Europe's 32 biggest banks combined – but the company was seen as something of a disaster when Cook joined in 1998.

He helped ramp up production rates and reduce inventory so that its supply line ran more smoothly.

Cook is already ranked by Out magazine as the world's most powerful gay person, although he has given very little away about his personal life. In fact, he is so devoted to his job that he was paid $40,001 for accrued and unused vacation last year.

This year, we suspect that his vacation time will be even more limited.

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