Why Isn't Apple's Board 'Cook'in' Yet?

The build up to yesterday's board of directors meeting at Apple was pretty significant. Fifty articles or so mentioned that the group was meeting, and topping the agenda would be the discussion of a possible replacement to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who announced his resignation from the board just a few weeks ago.

But the meeting apparently came and went with no news, no press release, no announcement, and that, to me, is a little bit surprising. That's because there seems to be a groundswell of support for Apple's Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook to be invited to the exclusive club. I've written about this before, that it should be a no-brainer, that Cook did a stellar job in watching the store while its main proprietor was away on medical leave. From everything I can tell, and everyone I've talked to about this, Cook is universally respected inside Infinite Loop in Cupertino, and he's demonstrated an uncanny ability to keep the flame alive even while the guy who lit it was laid up getting that new liver.

Apple technically doesn't have to name anyone to replace Schmidt. The bylaws of the company state that Apple's board can be composed of five to nine members. Without Schmidt, Apple's board has eight members, including CEO Steve Jobs; Intuit CEO Bill Campbell: former Vice President Al Gore; Avon Products CEO Andrea Jung; former Chrysler exec Jerome York; J Crew CEO Millard Drexler and Genentech Chairman Arthur Levinson. Even though the company doesn't have to, not filling the vacancy with Cook would be a mistake.

It's no secret that Apple's board has been in lock-step support of Jobs, and judging by Apple's growth, and stock price, and cash on the balance sheet, and product innovation, and product pipeline, and the App Store, and, well, lots of other good stuff driven by Jobs, why not? But there's been not-so-quiet criticism that Apple's board lacks the necessary independence to govern the company properly. Where that criticism comes from -- when shareholders, employees and customers are reaping the enormous financial rewards from a company that seems to be run, and running, just fine, is beyond me, but criticisms have been lobbed nonetheless. And amid those criticisms, some believe Apple should look beyond Cook if the company is going to replace Schmidt, to an outsider who can lend better, more independent, objective counsel to the company.

Spare me. Investors should want -- and deserve -- the best, qualified, effective board the company can cobble together, whether that means insiders, outsiders or whomever. Cook's qualifications, and his demonstrated ability and allegiance to Apple should speak for themselves. Jobs disappeared for six months, and Apple didn't miss a beat in his absence thanks to Cook's leadership. It's not that Cook "deserves" the invite; he's earned it. He's essential, and beyond the untold riches he's amassed as such a key exec at this company, he ought to be recognized in a decidedly un-financial way with an elevation to the board.

I get the outsider argument, but no one would be better to fill that vacant seat at the table. With yesterday's board meeting over, I'm surprised the invite hasn't already been announced.

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