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Thursday, January 20, 2011, 08:00 pm PT (11:00 pm ET)

Apple's Tim Cook profiled as "most powerful gay man in Silicon Valley"

Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs has left operations chief Tim Cook in command during extended periods of medical leave three times now, indicating confidence in a man who has been described as Jobs' heir apparent for years.

Valleywag profiled Cook as being "as reticent to acknowledge his sexual orientation as he has his prowess in overseeing the company supply chain," noting that despite being a "famously quiet and collected person," Cook "will find his backstory, both personal and professional, the topic of increasing interest and discussion in the tech community."

The profile notes that "Cook's rise to his position—he is one of the most powerful corporate executives in the world, to say nothing of being the most powerful gay person in tech by a mile—is also a tribute to his skill and work ethic on the one hand, and to the utterly unconventional and unconventionally empowering people skills of Jobs on the other."

Unflappable

The profile detailed Cook's background, in particular describing his recruitment by Jobs from Compaq in 1998, noting that "'unflappable' demeanor may have been what sealed the deal with Jobs. 'Steve is very focused on people he can connect to emotionally' a recruiter present at the meeting later said."

Cook is credited with rapidly fixing Apple's "notorious manufacturing inefficiencies" and solved the inventory problems that dogged the company's ability to supply enough of popular products like the PowerBook while spending too much to warehouse models that weren't.

Cook is also noted as the brain behind identifying flash RAM as a critical component that Apple needed to secure vital access to via a multiyear contract worth more than $1 billion. Cook has since unveiled a new $3.9 billion plan intended to secure priority access to strategic components.

Described as a workaholic who survives on a diet of "an endless series of energy bars," Cook is said to pride himself "on being first into the office and the last one out," and expects a similar level of commitment from others.

Different from Jobs

Unlike Jobs, Cook is not seen to be a product visionary nor a "compelling public speaker," tasks Apple's management team has delegated to design chief Jonathan Ive and marketing chief Phil Schiller, respectively. Like Jobs however, Cook hasn't been shy about thawing sharp critiques at competitors' products, recently describing various vendor's tablet products as being "big, heavy, expensive," "bizarre," or simply "vapor."

Described as both a "fitness nut in the gym by 5 AM," and "relatively withdrawn," Valleywag noted that it has "heard from two well-placed sources" that Cook is gay, and that "it sounds like Cook's sexual orientation has been the topic of at least some discussion within the company."

The profile cited "one tech executive who has spoken to multiple Apple management veterans about Cook" as reporting being "told executives there would support Cook if he publicly acknowledged his orientation, and even would encourage him to do so as he steps up his leadership role, but that they also had concerns about whether his coming out would impact the perception of the Apple brand."

Also noted was Cook's 1996 misdiagnosis with multiple sclerosis, something that caused him to "see the world in a different way," and has prompted him to help raise funds for research of the disease since.

Apple Exec Team

Cook, Jobs & Schiller in 2009 | Source: Getty Images.


All that matters

Apple has been rated among the top "gay-friendly" tech companies among brands, and is widely considered to offer a workplace and culture that is open to people regardless of their background and preferences. Randy Ubillos, one of Apple's most well known engineers as the creator of Final Cut, the man who redesigned iMovie for Mac, and who was introduced last year by Jobs to demonstrate his new iMovie app for iPhone, is openly gay.

Apple has also recognized the achievements of its third party developers who happened to be gay, including Steve Demeter, who left his job at Wells Fargo to work for himself, becoming independently wealthy after creating the early iOS game Trism.

"I'm totally out in my private life," Demeter said in an interview, "but I'm not sure about being out professionally. I'm not worried about a backlash or anything like that, I'm just not sure that my being gay has anything to do with my business [Demiforce, www.demiforce.com ] and the kinds of games we're creating. It's not like we're making 'gay' games.

"I'm proud of the fact that I'm gay and that some of the guys who work with me are gay," he added, "but at the end of the day all that matters is that we put stuff out there that's high-quality and that makes people happy."