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Tim Cook, Steve Jobs and the continuity of Apple's dominance

March has been a pretty big month for Apple (AAPL).

The largest U.S. company by market value, joined the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI). A week later, a Cantor Fitzgerald analyst raised his price target on Apple to $180 per share. If Apple hits that target, it will become the first $1 trillion company in the world.

How did the company get here? The new book “Becoming Steve Jobs” takes a look at the man co-author Brent Schlender calls “the person who became the guy who led the company that became the most valuable corporation on the planet.”

Schlender says Apple is still the company it was when Steve Jobs was at the helm.  “Really what Steve created and was interested in trying to build was a coherent experience with technology where the actual device almost fades away,” says Schlender. He says that experience was meant to let users “naturally interact with these tools that can amplify your intellect or help you communicate or help you keep track of things much better or much easier than any other devices you could buy.”

Schlender says this experience is alive and well at Apple. “Now we are going to have the watch added into this,” says Schlender. Pre-orders for the Apple Watch don’t begin for more than a week, and it won’t be available in stores until April 24. But the buzz around the device is growing, as developers begin rolling out apps for the new device.

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“Consistency of design” is what set Apple apart and maintaining those standards were very important to Jobs, says Schlender. “That consistency was a high ideal to Steve."

A big part of that consistency has to do with leadership. Steve Jobs named Tim Cook as his successor about six weeks before he died in 2011. Cook had been with Apple since 1998 and became part of Jobs' inner circle. “Becoming Steve Jobs” revealed Cook offered to give Jobs a piece of his liver in 2009 when his boss had become very ill. Jobs adamantly refused the offer and ultimately received a liver transplant which kept him alive for two more years.

“People think of Steve jobs as this one person and of course he was, but he changed enormously over time,” says Rick Tetzeli who co-wrote the book with Schlender.

When Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 after being essentially kicked out of the company more than a decade earlier, he had an executive team that was solid and stable for 15 years, say Schlender and Tetzeli. “He was able to manage through them and bit by bit get better and better and evolve the product lines naturally into what we know now,” says Tetzeli. “So it wasn’t that he was a genius who sort of dreamed up these great products out of the blue. It was that he was kind of an impresario and he could collect ideas from all over the place and bring them together and lead a group of people to make something fantastic.”

One of those people was Tim Cook. Fortune magazine last week named Cook to the top of its list of 50 greatest leaders. Cook says the transition to CEO after Jobs’ departure wasn’t easy. “I have thick skin,” Cook recently told Fortune, “But it got thicker…[Jobs] was an incredible heat shield for us, his executive team. None of us probably appreciated that enough because it’s not something we were fixated on. We were fixated on our products and running the business."

Cook is, of course, a different personality leading the same company he took over from his friend.  On Monday, Cook wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post expressing that he is "deeply disappointed" in the new Indiana law that essentially shields business owners who deny customers for religious reasons.  Cook, who publicly announced he is gay in October, points to similar legislation in a dozen states, calling such laws "very dangerous."

Cook is also making a name for himself philanthropically.  He told Fortune magazine he plans to donate his welath - an estimated $785 million - to charity. There is one catch, though: He will pay for his nephew's college education first.

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