Tech

Tim Cook became Apple CEO 10 years ago — here's how the company has thrived under his watch

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Key Points
  • Tim Cook was named CEO of Apple 10 years ago.
  • Cook has transformed Apple from a company where decisions flowed through an all-powerful CEO icon into a blue chip company with rigorous operations, prodigious size and quarterly results that frequently blow the socks off of investors.
Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the opening of the new Apple Tower Theater retail store at Apple Tower Theatre on June 24, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
JC Olivera | Getty Images

Ten years ago, Tim Cook was named CEO of Apple.

He had a tough task. His predecessor Steve Jobs founded the company, and returned from exile to bring Apple back from the brink of death and launch the products that defined Apple as a modern computing juggernaut: The iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad.

But Cook says that Jobs told him to be his own leader, and never to ask "what would Steve do?" He took that advice, building a rigorous operational juggernaut and turning Apple into the most valuable publicly traded company in the world.

Under Cook, Apple shored up the iPhone business and bolstered it with a constellation of new products that attract new customers and entrench current customers in Apple's world. Since 2011, the company has released several new products, including the Apple Watch and AirPods.

Cook's Apple is significantly bigger than it was when he took over, and it also faces new challenges, from navigating politics around the world to the perennial question about what its next big product is.

Ultimately, Apple's board is happy with Cook and his performance. In September, Apple's board granted Cook shares and performance-based awards that could give him more than 1 million Apple shares through 2026, his first stock grant since he took over.

Here's Cook's 10-year report card.

Revenue

Cook had been acting CEO before he officially took over, but the difference between the quarter before Cook took charge and today's sales underscores how much larger Apple has gotten.

In the third fiscal quarter of 2011, Apple reported $28.57 billion in revenue. This year, in the same quarter and the most recent quarter which figures are available, Apple reported $81.4 billion in sales — nearly three times as much.

Apple's iPhone alone accounted for nearly $39.6 billion last quarter, which is more than the company's entire sales when Cook took over.

Stock price and market cap

Investors would be happy if they bought Apple on Cook's first day. An investment of $1,000 in Apple stock on Aug. 24, 2011, would be worth more than $16,866 as of Monday, an over 32% annual rate of return if they reinvested all dividends. The S&P 500 only returned just more than 16% annually over the same period.

Apple has worked to reduce its share count through stock buybacks. Apple CFO Luca Maestri said in July that the company has spent more than $450 billion on buybacks and dividends since it started its capital return program in 2012.

In 2011, Apple had 929,409,000 shares outstanding. In October it had 17,001,802,000 shares outstanding, but that was after a 4-1 stock split in 2020 and a 7-1 stock split in 2014. As of October, Apple had the equivalent of 607,207,214 in 2011 shares outstanding, or a 35% decrease since Cook took over.

Apple is the most valuable publicly traded company, worth more than $2.4 trillion, edging out other giants such as Microsoft and Amazon.

One thing propelling Apple's market cap is the company's new focus on its services business. The catch-all category includes software subscriptions like iCloud and Apple Music, App Store downloads and a portion of transactions users make in the apps they download, AppleCare warranties, money from Google to make its search engine the default on iPhone, and cuts from its Apple Pay payments service. Apple first started to call attention to the previously sleepy category in 2015 as iPhone growth slowed.

Apple has started to release new products to bolster its services that bill on a recurring basis, including Apple News+, a digital magazine bundle, and Apple TV+, a competitor to Netflix. It's also bundling its services in a subscription called Apple One. Most recently, it's started to add privacy features to paid iCloud accounts.

The growth of Apple's services business from $2.95 billion in fiscal 2011 to $53.77 billion in fiscal 2020 has given investors confidence that it can find new revenue streams even as iPhone sales slow.

New products

Steve Jobs, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., unveils the iPhone 4 during his keynote address at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, California, U.S.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Jobs was known as a product-focused CEO who was involved in the development of new devices from their conception until they were on store shelves.

Cook isn't as product focused as his predecessor, but his Apple has managed to launch several new successful products.

In 2015, Apple released Apple Watch, a companion for the iPhone that tracked heart rate, displayed notifications and worked with a variety compatible watch bands from fashion brands like Hermes.

While Apple has never released unit sales numbers or even direct revenue from the watch, one estimate from Counterpoint Research says that Apple shipped 33.9 million watches in 2020, far outpacing Huawei, the second-place company, which only shipped 11 million smartwatches.

Apple also released AirPods in 2016. Similarly, Apple has never announced financial results from the AirPods, but the company's wireless headphones accounted for just under half of wireless headphone sales in 2020, according to Strategy Analytics.

In 2011, Apple's "other" category, at the time called "peripherals and other hardware," reported $2.3 billion in sales. By 2020, after being bolstered by the release of both Apple Watch and AirPods, it had more than $30.6 billion in revenue and the moniker Wearables, Home and Accessories.

Apple's main product remains the iPhone, which accounted for 47% of the company's sales in the most recent quarter. But under Cook's watch, the iPhone has improved on a rigorous annual release schedule. When Cook took over, the most advanced iPhone was the iPhone 4, with a 5 megapixel camera and a 3.5-inch screen. Modern iPhone 12 devices can come with as many as three cameras, 6.7-inch screens and an Apple-designed processor that rivals the fastest computer chips.

Prices have risen, too — the iPhone 4 cost $599 for an entry-level model ($199 with a carrier contract). Today, Pro models start at $999.

Challenges

Steve Proehl | Corbis Unreleased | Getty Images

A month after Cook took over, Apple had 60,400 full-time employees. Now it has 147,000 full-time employees in countries around the world, according to a filing last fall.

Apple's global operations will create new challenges for the company. Cook personally navigated a relationship with former President Donald Trump as the U.S. placed tariffs on parts and products that Apple imports. It also faces pressure from China and other governments over the apps it has in its store and how it operates its cloud services.

In the U.S., Apple has been lumped in with other dominant tech companies as having too much power. In Apple's case, regulators and critics have focused on the App Store, the only way for consumers to install software on an iPhone. Detractors claim it has arbitrary rules and decry Apple's cut of 30% of most purchases, which they say is too much.

Later this year, a judge in Oakland, California, will decide whether Apple broke antirust laws, prompted by a lawsuit from Fortnite maker Epic Games. Cook testified in court for the first time as CEO during that trial. Apple also faces legislation currently being debated in Congress which would force the company to change the way it administers its software stores. Apple has denied that it holds a monopoly over its app store.

Apple also gets questions about what its next big product may be. It's been investing heavily in researching self-driving electric cars, but a release date is likely years away. It is working in the health world to allow users to store medical records and communicate with their doctors, but Apple hasn't released any health hardware except for its Apple Watch. Apple is also working on virtual reality and augmented reality headsets, but those would represent a big new category that hasn't yet caught on with consumers.

Whatever comes next for Apple, Cook remains a steady hand at its helm.