The WSJ profiles Apple's No. 2 in charge

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Although Apple Computer's second in command Tim Cook sports a low profile, his contributions at the company have earned him enough notice within technology circles that he is routinely solicited for CEO jobs, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Cook, who has voiced no near-term plans to leave Apple, was first lured to the company in 1998 by chief executive Steve Jobs, the paper notes in a profile (subscription required). At the time, Apple was in shambles, having lost more than $1 billion in fiscal 1997 as it gained notoriety for insufficient manufacturing practices, with bloated inventories that forced it to take costly write-downs on unsold computers and parts.

"In one instance of its inefficiency, Apple assembled notebook computers at a plant in Ireland out of parts shipped from Asia, then sent a significant portion of the finished notebooks back to Asia to be sold in that market," according to the report. "Mr. Cook helped fix such problems. He pushed Apple parts suppliers to physically locate next to assembly plants for Apple products. That let the suppliers keep the parts in their inventory rather than Apple's own."

By the end of the company's fiscal 1998 on Sept. 25 of that year, Cook had worked Apple's inventory down to six days with a value of $78 million, compared to 31 days, or $437 million, the year earlier. By late 1999, he helped squeeze those figures down to just to two days' worth, or about $20 million, the report notes.

According to the Journal, at moments in negotiations when others might elevate their voice, Cook has "an unsettling habit of staring intensely at his counterparts in silence." One person familiar with the Apple chief operating officer recalled leaving a meeting in which Cook had "subtly dressed down" another man in the meeting. The man "got his head handed to him, but Tim did it in a professional, surgical way," that person said.

At other times, Cook has been known for more public shows of criticism, riddled with humor. "At annual meetings of Apple's sales force, for instance, he has been known to hand out a toilet plunger to the sales team that underperforms expectations the most," claims the Journal.

Known for putting in long hours at Apple, Cook, the paper said, is single and devotes much of his time away from the office to sports and exercise. "He's an avid cyclist, known to quote Lance Armstrong in Apple meetings, and is typically at the gym by 5 a.m., people who know him say."

Cook's office and home are are said to be "festooned with memorabilia" for the Auburn Tigers, his alma mater's football team. After majoring in industrial engineering at Auburn, he earned a master's in business administration at Duke University and went on to hold positions at Compaq, IBM. and a computer reseller called Intelligent Electronics.

Although initially a risk, joining Apple has proven to be a financial win for Cook. The Journal reports that since joining the company, he has sold Apple stock worth more than $113 million. As of April of this year, Thomson Financial indicated that Cook continues to hold shares valued at $23 million, in addition to a salary and bonus of $1.2 million last year, which made him the highest-paid Apple executive in 2005.

On the other hand, the Journal notes that Cook has proved more financially conservative — and less fortunate — in other decisions. "Since moving to California to join Apple, he has rented a modest home in the town of Palo Alto, put off by Silicon Valley's high real-estate prices, which have only gotten higher since then," the paper said.

Susan Bailey, a senior executive at networking company Avaya Inc. and a friend and former colleague of Cook, told the Journal she recently had dinner with the Apple COO and remembers him saying, "I can't believe I didn't buy my house."