How Steve Jobs finally persuaded a 37-year-old Tim Cook to join a near-bankrupt Apple in 1998

Tim Cook, CEO, Apple
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Before he joined Apple, Tim Cook held a number of impressive positions at major tech companies: a 12-year tenure at IBM, as well as executive roles at Intelligent Electronics and Compaq.

During his time at Compaq, which was then the world's largest PC seller, Cook had already turned down Apple recruiters multiple times, but their persistence finally paid off one day.

Cook decided that he should at least meet with Steve Jobs, he told Charlie Rose in 2014. "Steve created the whole industry that I'm in," he said, adding that Jobs was "doing something totally different."

When the two met for the first time, Jobs explained his strategy and vision for Apple. He described a product that would shake up the computing world, a design that would be unlike any computer seen before. (The product would later turn out to be the enormously successful iMac G3: The bulbous, colorful Macintosh launched in 1998, which put designer Jony Ive on the map.)

One CEO I consulted felt so strongly about it, he told me I would be a fool to leave Compaq for Apple.
Tim Cook
CEO, Apple

Cook was intrigued. Although he had been happy at Compaq, his meeting with Jobs gave him a fresh and exciting outlook. "He told me a little about the design, enough to get me really interested," he told Rose. He walked away convinced that working with a Silicon Valley legend like Jobs would be the "privilege of a lifetime."

Ex-Apple engineer reveals what it was like to pitch Steve Jobs
Ex-Apple engineer reveals what it was like to pitch Steve Jobs

Cook had some doubts at the back of his mind, but they weren't big enough to dissuade him from taking the job.

"Any purely rational consideration of cost and benefits lined up in Compaq's favor, and the people who knew me best advised me to stay at Compaq," Cook said in his 2010 commencement speech at Auburn University. "One CEO I consulted felt so strongly about it, he told me I would be a fool to leave Compaq for Apple."

But Cook knew that turning down a job at Apple would have meant turning down the opportunity to be part of something special.

"I had always thought that following the herd was not a good thing, that it was a terrible thing to do," Cook said. "But I looked at the problems Apple had, and I thought, you know, I can make a contribution here. So all of a sudden, I thought, I'm doing it. It didn't make sense. And yet, my gut said, go for it. And I listened to my gut."

In March 1998, Jobs hired Cook, aged 37, as senior vice president of worldwide operations, with a base salary of $400,000 and a $500,000 signing bonus.

At the time, Apple was not a place where very many people wanted to work. The company was near-bankrupt and employee morale was low. Cook was well aware that he was inheriting a mess.

Given the sizable job of overhauling Apple's manufacturing and distribution, Cook ended up being one of the best hires Jobs ever made. Coming from a procurement background, he couldn't have been a better fit for Apple — and for Jobs personally.

"[Cook] had the same vision I did," Jobs told Walter Issacson, author of the biography "Steve Jobs." "We could interact at a high strategic level, and I could just forget about a lot of things unless he came and pinged me."

It was a perfect match.

Leander Kahney is the editor of Cult of Mac and best-selling author of "Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products" and "Inside Steve's Brain." His latest book, "Tim Cook: The Genius who took Apple to the Next Level," takes a look at how Apple CEO Tim Cook has led Apple to astronomical success after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011.

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