Tim Cook maintains Steve Jobs' Beatles business model

Most of Apple's executives spent more than a decade with Steve Jobs, who admired the Beatles as a group who kept each other's negative tendencies in check.

Dan Farber
3 min read
Apple's band has spent many years together breathing the same air infused with Steve Jobs' passion for being different and sweating the details. Apple

Tim Cook likes to talk about Apple's values and the virtues of teamwork. At the Worldwide Developers Conference this week, he told the 5,000 developers in attendance to build products for Apple's platforms that trigger emotional responses, such as "delight," "surprise," "love," and "connection" for users.

One of the videos shown at WWDC, and released as a TV ad,introduces the world to Apple's value system: "We spend a lot of time on a few great things...until every idea we touch...enhances each life it touches."

It's Apple's scripture designed to bind together more than 70,000 Apple workers in a hive mind, and to elevate the conversation and development goals beyond the usual hand-to-hand tech industry combat that results in me-too products and devolution. It's the religion of Apple, with a million people a day visiting its churches, and Cook is merely the chief evangelist and coach.

It sounds over-the-top, even romantic and idealistic, but it's Cook's version of what Jobs' simply called "cool," with a Cheshire cat smile when expressing the values of Apple and its latest creations.

Steve Jobs introduces the first iPhone on January 9, 2007. Dan Farber

Despite his strong and sometimes mercurial leadership, Jobs understood that Apple doesn't thrive as a collection of one-man-bands. But it's not a kumbaya version of the Silicon Valley workplace, without pitched battles or survival of the fittest competitions for product ideas and positions. Most of the current crop of top executives in charge of Apple's future spent over a decade working closely with Jobs, who didn't tolerate prima donnas and inspired and scared people into doing their best work.

In a 2003 interview, Jobs told "60 Minutes" that his business philosophy was inspired by a band, the Beatles:

My model for business is the Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other's kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other, and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That's how I see business: Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people.

The Beatles posing together on August 2, 1967. At that time they stopped their concerts and announced their separation despite their last album to come, Abbey Road in 1970. Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Cook took over leadership of the band, and made his own revisions to the players to keep negative tendencies in check. He ousted one the more abrasive stars, iOS chief Scott Forstall, and kept another, Bob Mansfield, from leaving the band. He also brought in new band members to the executive team, including Craig Federighi to replace Forstall, who is becoming one of the favorites of the fans, and expanded design chief Jony Ive's purview. As a bandleader, Cook prefers to give the stage to others and keep the spotlight off himself, although he talks to the press and analysts more than Jobs ever did.

Apple's management team and their years with the company

Most of the Apple band has been working closely together for more than a decade.

The band of executives is what Cook views as a major competitive advantage for Apple. In response to a question about whether Apple can still innovate, during an interview at the All Things D conference last month, Cook responded, "We have some incredible plans that we have been working on for a while. We have incredible ideas, the same culture, and largely the same people that brought you the iPhone, the iPad, many that brought the iPod, and some that even brought the Mac are still there. The culture is all still there, and many of the people are there. I think we have several more game-changers in us."

The Beatles had an incredible run for 10 years, before finally breaking up in 1970. Jobs and now Cook have kept their band together for even longer. And, just like the Beatles, Apple has to keep the hits coming and the band in balance, avoiding implosion. The performance at the WWDC showed that the band, who all could retire on their tens or hundreds of millions of dollars banked, can still play together and thrill the audience. It may be that they are collectively still striving for perfection and the next game changer, while watching Google's every move.

iOS and Mac OS chief Craig Federighi stands before the features coming to iOS 7 at WWDC 2013. James Martin/CNET