Tim Cook’s Apple has ended the company’s obsession with tiny, secret teams

New phones, new Apple.
New phones, new Apple.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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It’s no secret that Tim Cook is stylistically different from his predecessor, the brilliant but mercurial Steve Jobs. The leadership transition has has had a dramatic effect on the company’s culture and structure, as documented by Bloomberg Businessweek’s latest interview with Cook. He has opened up how the company organizes departments, recruits talent is recruited, and designs products, doing away with Jobs’s more closed, compartmentalized approach.

Before Cook took over, Apple was strictly broken up into different highly specialized departments; they shared very little and were united mostly by Jobs’s presence.

Now finance and operations employees sit alongside hardware or software engineers in product roadmap sessions, teams are much larger, and Cook will pointedly ask about spending and hiring in product review sessions, to the objection of some Apple traditionalists, according to the interview.

For example, rather than walling off a small, exclusive group to design the new Apple Watch, the team ”included hundreds of engineers, designers, and marketing people” as well as metallurgists and algorithm specialists.

“The lines between hardware, software, and services are blurred or are disappearing,” Cook told Businessweek. “The only way you can pull this off is when everyone is working together well. And not just working together well but almost blending together so that you can’t tell where people are working anymore, because they are so focused on a great experience that they are not taking functional views of things.”

Cook has been on a hiring spree to add expertise in the areas he lacks. Unlike Jobs, who wanted control over the entire company’s vision, Cook is more willing to let others share ownership. Cook maintains an intense focus on his particular area of expertise, management of the company’s supply chain.

Recent hires include co-founders of Beats Entertainment Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre (through Apple’s recent acquisition of the company), watchmaker Tag Heure’s Paul Pruniaux, Yves Saint Laurent’s Paul Deneve, and ex-Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts.

The aim is to shore up the company’s knowledge of selling new categories of luxury goods, but provide a diversity of experience and perspective that Cook values, Apple board member Susan Wagner said.

Though Apple’s internal management seems to have opened up, its product plans are bound to remain top secret.