It was one year ago today that Steve Jobs' temporary leave of absence turned into his actual retirement: when the late and legendary founder of Apple (AAPL) announced he was losing his fight against cancer and would not be returning to the company he loved.
As shocking and sad and unsettling as the news was at the time, the actual hand-off was seamless, considering chief operating officer Tim Cook was already seven months into his second stint as interim CEO. Even so, the doubts were many and the concerns were plentiful, as loyal consumers, devoted employees, and beholden investors were forced to acknowledge that things would never be the same. After all, no one could ever replace Steve Jobs.
Here we are one year later and, depending on whom you ask or how you look at it, Cook has either a lot or very little to show for the past 12 months of work.
"What stands out is how little stands out," says Adam Lashinsky, author of Inside Apple and senior editor at large for FORTUNE. "It's been a year of continuation of everything Apple had been doing in the previous two years," he adds in the attached video, pointing out that the real measure of the Cook era won't begin until a brand new product category is launched that is as "mind-blowingly revolutionary as the last few."
While the latest iteration of the iPhone (version 5) is expected to be unveiled in September, brand new products such as a much-anticipated TV or iPad mini might not come to market for another quarter or two. As much as that seems like a lifetime to some device devotees and technophiles, company historians like Lashinsky point out that it's only been two-and-a-half years since the iPad debut, which itself came three years after the iPhone was first unveiled. "So they're about on schedule," Lashinsky says, "assuming we get something cool this fall or spring."
In the meantime, Lashinsky characterizes Cook's tenure as being a caretaker of the "rocket ship company" he inherited from his former boss. He also calls Cook a good steward of Apple's culture, a corporate climate he says is famous for being very product focused, intensely secretive, and unapologetic about "doing things its own way."
To be sure, investors in Apple must be nothing short of thrilled with the past year. It has been a 12-month joyride that has seen the stock go from about $375 to over $650. To put that into perspective, that gain of roughly 80% amounts to more than $250 billion worth of new market cap. That's equivalent to growing a brand new Microsoft (MSFT) in a single year or about what it would cost to acquire all of Coca-Cola (KO) and Intel (INTC)! Mind-boggling, to be sure. But such is life when you're running the largest company in the world — one that's now worth over $600 billion dollars.
Another inaugural accomplishment Cook can claim is ending Apple's 17-year drought of dividends after agreeing in March to use about $10 billion, or 10%, of the company's cash stockpile to placate investors.
Analysts still love the stock, 90% of whom rate it a 'buy', while sales and earnings continue to set records. Despite the July quarter coming in below expectations, the stock has regained all the ground and then some in the past few weeks.
If you take it all into consideration, it's why Lashinsky and most other Apple watchers have nothing bad to say about Cook's performance — at least not yet.
"Not much has changed," Lashinsky says of year one. "The company is still going on the same trajectory that it was on while Steve Jobs was alive."
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