One of Apple’s most important executives—Jeff Williams, the company’s senior vice president of operations—has been working at Apple for almost two decades, mostly outside the public’s view. Now, as CEO Tim Cook continues to reshape a company that for years was associated with just one executive, Williams is starting to get more face time.
Tomorrow, Williams will represent the company in a session at the Code Conference near Los Angeles—his first big, public interview. Code—previously “D,” which journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher founded while working at the Wall Street Journal—is the very high-profile tech executive confab where the rarely interviewed Steve Jobs paid regular visits, including a famous sit-down with fellow panelist Bill Gates in 2007.
A few other Apple executives, including Cook, Eddy Cue, and Jimmy Iovine, have spoken at Code and D, but it’s a small club. Williams will appear this year alongside scheduled speakers that also include Twitter CEO Dick Costolo; Google’s chief business officer, Omid Kordestani; and Hugo Barra, the former Google executive in charge of international expansion for Chinese handset upstart Xiaomi.
Williams has been busy lately, having just launched Apple’s first major new product in years, the Apple Watch. This required developing entirely new operations for Apple, including working with new metals, such as gold. And it has been a challenging launch. Apple hasn’t been able to make enough watches to meet initial demand, and there has been at least one report of faulty parts (paywall).
Williams also has been involved with Apple’s recently announced ResearchKit program, which provides software for performing wide-scale consumer medical research using iPhone apps. Williams presented the project for an Apple keynote in March—marking his first major appearance in one of those.
Williams has also increasingly appeared in articles about Apple. Here he is in a September 2014 profile of Tim Cook by Bloomberg, which explains why Cook assigned him the watch project:
Williams is Cook’s go-to guy—he vets possible acquisitions, coordinates with Foxconn Technology and other manufacturers, and oversees the logistics needed to get millions of devices from Asian factories to stores around the world. He’s an uncanny Cook clone: tall, soft-spoken, and an avid fitness buff with an inexhaustible memory for operational details. Both men have MBAs from Duke University and spent early parts of their careers at IBM. In the new Apple, he’s Tim Cook’s Tim Cook.
Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice-president of operations, drives an old Toyota Camry. Ive’s verdict, according to Williams, is “Oh, God.”