The frontrunners for next Apple CEO: Speculating on Tim Cook's successor
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It should come as no real surprise that Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook says he'll "probably" leave the company within the next 10 years, given that the man is 60. But, it does raise the question of who is in line to replace him — AppleInsider ranks the current best options.
Cook's comments came in an interview with Kara Swisher on her "Sway" podcast for The New York Times. Swisher specifically asked Cook if he would remain at Apple for another decade.
"Ten more years? Probably not," Cook said. "But I can tell you that I feel great right now and the date is not in sight. But ten more years is a long time — and probably not ten more years."
Since taking over as CEO of Apple in 2011, Cook has led Apple through its most successful stretch ever. While his style is not as flashy, nor are his quips as memorable as company co-founder Steve Jobs, Cook's approach to business and life have become part of Apple's DNA in ways that will outlast his tenure.
Who will take over for Cook is not clear, though there are some frontrunners on the company's executive team. Below, we consider some of the options and why they might (or might not) be good candidates.
As a note before we start — age is obviously a factor here. Investors on Wall Street — as well as employees, and consumers — will want some reassurance that whoever follows Cook is not only capable, but willing and able to captain the ship for an extended period of time. As such, we've included a potential CEO's current age as a factor in how we ranked these.
The top choices: Craig Federighi, Greg "Joz" Joswiak, or Jeff Williams
Craig Federighi is well liked and personable, he has turned the ship on Apple's software, and his pedigree dates back to NeXT. Apple's 51-year-old Senior Vice President of Software Engineering has the Apple credentials to run the show, which is particularly important at an iconic, personality-driven company.
Almost everything said above about Federighi? The same applies here for Greg "Joz" Joswiak, Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing. He's been with Apple since 1986, he's well liked inside and outside of the company, and he's a known quantity.
And while his current role is in marketing, Joswiak, 56, has technical chops as well, having previously worked on the Macintosh team and helping to develop the original iPod and iPhone. Like Federighi, he's also a staple at Apple keynotes, and his ascendency to the CEO role wouldn't lead anyone to bat an eye.
Which leads to the third name among our top choices: Jeff Williams. Prior to taking over as CEO, Cook served as Apple's Chief Operating Officer — a role currently filled by Jeff Williams.
Williams, 58, has been with Apple since 1998 and played a key role in the launch of the first iPhone. He also led the engineering development of the Apple Watch — a wearable product so far ahead of the competition that Apple has become the largest watchmaker in the world.
Like Federighi and Joswiak, Williams is also a regular at Apple keynotes, as last September he was the one chosen to unveil the Apple Watch Series 6.
Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs, but his calm presence, methodical approach, and advocacy for social issues have come to define Apple in the post-Jobs era. Personality and presence matter at Apple, and all three choices here — Federighi, Joswiak and Williams — would fit the bill nicely. For any of them to take over for Tim Cook would put investors, staff and company watchers at ease.
If Cook were to leave in 10 years at the age of 70, Federighi would be 61, Joswiak would be 66, and Williams would be 68.
The legacy names: Eddy Cue or Phil Schiller
Both Eddy Cue and Phil Schiller have been part of Apple's senior leadership and in highly visible roles at the company since Steve Jobs was in charge. For either of them to take over would feel like a safe choice with a familiar face.
Cue, who is Apple's Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, oversees all of the company's content businesses, including Apple Music, Apple Pay, and iCloud. He has been with the company since 1989.
Schiller, meanwhile, has taken a step back within Apple. Previously the senior vice president of worldwide marketing, he is now an Apple Fellow, responsible for leading the App Store and Apple Events.
Schiller is the same age as Cook — 60 — while Cue is a little bit younger, at 56. Given Schiller's age and his reduced role at Apple, Cue feels like the more likely choice of these two, but still ranks behind Federighi, Joswiak and Williams.
The other senior leadership: Lisa Jackson, Johny Srouji, or John Ternus
While these names may not be at the top of the list in 2021, a lot could change over the next 5 or 10 years before Cook departs.
Lisa Jackson is Apple's vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives — a role that has become very important under Cook's leadership, as evidenced by her continued appearances at Apple keynotes and product launches. She previously served as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before joining Apple in 2013.
At 59, Jackson's age and short tenure with Apple would seem to make her an outsider. But she's also the most visible woman among Apple's leadership, and it's clear that Apple intends to continue promoting diversity within its ranks. Plus her leadership experience could make her a good candidate for the CEO role.
Johny Srouji, Apple's senior vice president of Hardware Technologies, is in charge of the Apple Silicon project, an effort that will lead the way for the next 10 years at Apple. That alone could make him a great candidate to succeed Cook.
Srouji, who is 57, has been with Apple since 2008, which is a little longer than Jackson, but still short of the other names on this list.
Perhaps the strongest candidate in this "third tier" of names is John Ternus, Apple's senior vice president of Hardware Engineering. Newly promoted to the position, he has been with Apple since 2001, overseeing hardware engineering work including every generation and model of iPad, the latest iPhones, and AirPods. Apple's official bio also says he has been "a key leader in the ongoing transition of the Mac to Apple silicon."
Ternus's exact age is unknown, but his LinkedIn profile shows that he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1997. Assuming a normal college path, Ternus is likely in his mid-to-late 40s.
Not on the leadership team, but still at Apple: Dan Riccio
Earlier this year, Apple announced that Dan Riccio, who was in charge of hardware engineering before Ternus took over, was transitioning to a new, secret project within the company. Accordingly, Riccio's name and bio were removed from the Apple leadership page, but it's believed that he continues to play a significant role.
Riccio has been with Apple since 1998, and he was promoted to SVP status alongside Federighi in 2012. At 55, Riccio would be a potential candidate to succeed Cook, but it is unclear whether Apple would want to pull him away from his latest project, which places him further down the list of potential candidates.
The outside choices: Ex-employees, or someone else entirely
This seems to be an unlikely approach, but anything is possible, particularly for a publicly traded company that could see pressure from investors to make a splashy hire. Still, Apple's most plausible route would be to hire from within, so the names above seem far more probable.
That said, if Apple were to go for an outsider for its next CEO, it could bring back some familiar names. Top of that list would be former lead designer Jony Ive. Whether or not the retired Ive, who is 54, would even be interested in the role is unknown.
Another to consider is Angela Ahrendts, who was previously senior vice president of retail at Apple. She has CEO experience, leading Burberry from 2006 to 2014. But she's also the same age as Cook, at 60.
Finally, Apple could go entirely outsider and select someone with no history at Apple, which seems incredibly unlikely. Apple's unique culture and storied history suggest that whoever takes over as the next CEO of Apple is probably someone who is currently working there.