You don't need to know much about the tech industry to know that Steve Jobs wasn't just the man who started Apple in his parents' garage; he was the guiding force behind everything that Apple did. Jobs was once called "the world's most valuable CEO" and there was no shortage of media experts and analysts who forecasted the death of Apple after Jobs' death one year ago.
Indeed, Apple has become a different company since Tim Cook replaced Jobs as CEO of Apple last year; perhaps for the better ... at least financially. The new iPad and iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 set new sales records and the company won a major patent lawsuit against chief competitor Samsung. Apple shares are up almost 80% since Jobs passed away, and in 2012, Apple's stock has exceeded the $700 price mark, making it the most valuable company of all time.
Tim Cook arguably received more harsh criticism than any other CEO in modern times. He was handpicked by Mr. Jobs, but Cook had zero experience as a CEO. That decision to appoint an untested CEO justifiably worried Apple fans and industry experts. Jobs earned a sometimes unpleasant reputation as a hard-working, difficult boss who oversaw development of each Apple product and rejected prototypes that didn't meet his exceedingly demanding standards. In short, when it came to product development and new product releases, Apple was a single-minded company and Steve Jobs was that single mind. Was Tim Cook ready to "take the reins and crack the whip" with the determination of a visionary? No, and Apple is probably better off because it; here's why:
Tim Cook hasn't been blind to the fact that Steve Jobs made Apple what it was and both customers and shareholders have expectations about the way Apple does business as a result. Cook hasn't tried to make dramatic changes to Apple, instead, he has delivered familiar influence based on the principles that Jobs held dear. Sure, Cook has done some things differently -- most recently he acknowledged the failures of the new Apple Maps in iOS 6 and he even went as far as to recommend Bing Maps ... something Jobs almost certainly wouldn't have said.
The key decisions that Cook has made over the last year which have helped Apple become stronger, both financially and in terms of brand identity, are things you might not have heard about. He pushed for a shareholder dividend and stock buyback program, ending years of speculation (and stock market concerns) over what Apple would do with its mounting cash surplus. Cook managed to avoid the terrible change to Apple TV that would have made the previous generation model incompatible, which probably made more than a few customers happy. Mr. Cook even went as far as to contact AT&T on behalf of an Apple customer ... now that's customer service! Not only that, but Cook changed Apple's charitable donation program so the company matches dollar for dollar employee contributions and he finally took a "real" salary ($900,000 base salary plus $376.2 million worth of restricted stock that vests over a 10-year period) rather than the somewhat "fictitious" $1 salary that Steve Jobs collected along with a hidden fortune in stocks ($1 base salary plus $6.7 billion in stocks).
Granted, we haven't heard anything about Cook personally spearheading the development of a major new product, but the small steps he has taken over the last year are reinforcing customer and market confidence in Apple. Again, it was only one year ago when some industry experts said that Apple would completely fail within a short period of time without Steve Jobs in charge.
After we took the time to look back over the last year without Steve Jobs, one thing is abundantly clear: Apple is a different company, but those differences aren't necessarily a failing. In fact, the changes that Cook has put in place seem to provide Apple with some support exactly where the company needs it, and Apple as a whole still follows the best practices set forth by its founder. Different isn't always a bad thing.