Running any Fortune 50 company is hugely complicated and difficult. But the CEO of Apple faces a challenge that is uniquely daunting. He or she must not only ensure the company remains profitable and that Apple stays at the forefront of innovation. Apple’s CEO must also try to try to live up to the standards of charismatic communication set by the legendary Steve Jobs.
The reviews of Tim Cook’s performance to date as manager-in-chief have been mixed. How is he doing as communicator-in-chief?
He has certainly done some things very well. I described in an earlier post how he made effective use of a personal story to announce Apple’s renewed commitment to corporate social responsibility. He also got great reviews for his testimony before Congress last year on a very difficult subject, how Apple avoided paying billions of dollars in taxes.
But the venue where Jobs cemented his reputation as a master communicator was at Apple’s premier event, its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). If you take a look at Cook’s performance at the 2013 event, it’s clear he’s trying hard and has learned important lessons from Jobs.
Cook kept his remarks pretty short, used wonderful slides and other multi-media elements. Like Jobs, he acted as a master of ceremonies, bringing out speakers from inside and outside the company to make their own slick presentations.
Still, the fact is — as a speaker– Cook simply doesn’t achieve the charismatic control of an audience that Jobs did. At the same time, WWDC made clear than one other Apple executive is a world class communicator from the podium.
Carmine Gallo is a well-known communications coach who has written several excellent books on Jobs’ presentation techniques. He praised the WWDC presentation by Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering. Gallo noted that Cook introduced Federighi as “Superman.” “Cook may have been referring to Federighi’s presentation skills,” Gallo wrote. “Federighi commanded 70 percent of the entire presentation and clearly stole the show, given the reaction he attracted in the audience and among bloggers who covered the event.”
Giving Federighi such a prominent role is a gamble for Cook. Cook knows he’ll never be the presenter Jobs was, but he can give Apple fans and customers the razzle dazzle they expect by relying on Federighi and possibly other executives. The risk is that Cooks most important audiences might start thinking that Federighi not Cook should be the executive filling Jobs’ shoes.