Highlights from Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs
From the start of his Apple tenure, Cook set colossally high expectations. He wanted the best price, the best delivery, the best yield, the best everything. "I want you to act like we are a $20 billion company," he told the procurement team—even though Apple then had only about $6 billion in annual revenues and was barely eking out a profit. They were playing in a new league now.
To some, Cook was a machine; to others, he was riveting. He could strike terror in the hearts of his subordinates, but he could also motivate them to toil from dawn to midnight for just a word of praise.
Those who interacted only passingly with Cook saw him as a gentle Southerner with an aura reminiscent of Mister Rogers. But he wasn't approachable. He worked out at a different gym than the one on Apple's campus and didn't fraternize outside of work.
Meetings with Cook could be terrifying. He exuded a Zenlike calm and didn't waste words. "Talk about your numbers. Put your spreadsheet up," he'd say as he nursed a Mountain Dew. (Some staffers wondered why he wasn't bouncing off the walls from the caffeine.) When Cook turned the spotlight on someone, he hammered them with questions until he was satisfied. "Why is that?" "What do you mean?" "I don't understand. Why are you not making it clear?" He was known to ask the same exact question 10 times in a row.
Cook also knew the power of silence. He could do more with a pause than Jobs ever could with an epithet. When someone was unable to answer a question, Cook would sit without a word while people stared at the table and shifted in their seats. The silence would be so intense and uncomfortable that everyone in the room wanted to back away. Unperturbed, Cook didn't move a finger as he focused his eyes on his squirming target. Sometimes he would take an energy bar from his pocket while he waited for an answer, and the hush would be broken only by the crackling of the wrapper.
Even in Apple's unrelenting culture, Cook's meetings stood out as harsh. On one occasion, a manager from another group who was sitting in was shocked to hear Cook tell an underling, "That number is wrong. Get out of here."
Cook's quarterly reviews were especially torturous because Cook would grind through the minutiae as he categorized what worked and what didn't, using yellow Post-its. His managers crossed their fingers in the hopes of emerging unscathed. "We're safe as long as we're not at the back of the pack," they would say to each other.
That February, Jobs was preoccupied with the passage of time. His twentieth wedding anniversary was coming up the following month.
He hadn’t always paid attention to occasions like this in the past, but this year was different. Deciding to enlist some help, he called Tom Suiter, an old friend and a veteran designer.
On the day of their first meeting, Suiter arrived at Jobs’s house with some watercolor paper and a set of Conté crayons. Suiter’s idea was a handmade white linen box that would open up to a black linen container with twenty photographs. He envisioned that the box would have some kind of logo on it. Suiter was hoping to convince Jobs to design that himself. When he suggested it, Jobs refused to consider it.
“Steve, you could hire anybody on the face of the planet to do this for you. I’m so appreciative that you asked me to do it, but I just think it would be so cool if you could do something,” ventured Suiter as they sat in Jobs’s atrium. “What if it was just this really nice little heart with a two and a zero on it?”
For a moment Jobs was silent.
“I’ll give it a shot,” he said slowly. “But will you draw it first and I’ll copy it?”
After Suiter did a few hearts, Jobs picked up a crayon. He very carefully drew one side and then the other. And then he drew a 2. The crayons provided beautiful texture, but Jobs didn’t like what he saw and tried to discard them.
As they got together over the next several weeks, they talked about life and compared notes about their children. Sometimes, the conversation was lighthearted. They would talk about funny moments or their kids’ Halloween costumes. Suiter used to make Superman and werewolf costumes for his sons.
Jobs expressed regret that he hadn’t been a better father. He wished he better understood his daughters.
One time as Suiter was walking out, Jobs told him goodbye. The formality of the farewell frightened Suiter so much that he began praying as soon as he reached his car. “Come on,” he told himself. “No, this can’t be the end.”
He was immensely relieved when he saw Jobs again two weeks later.
When Jobs finished designing the logo of the heart, Suiter found someone who made exquisitely crafted linen boxes. Then he located a museum quality printer. Suiter also persuaded Jobs to write a letter to his family that was letter-pressed and enclosed under a sheet of vellum paper. As before, Jobs was initially resistant.
“Aw man. Aw God.”
“No, come on! You can write that,” Suiter said to coax him. “Think about it. The first time you saw her she swept you off your feet, right?”
The result was a sweet and melancholy note. When the gift was finally finished, Jobs had tears in his eyes. “It’s perfect.”
On the evening after the first iPhone went on sale, a couple dozen visiting designers from Samsung were dining at a Korean barbecue restaurant in San Francisco called Hanuri when a friend showed up with the device. The phone was locked, so the designers couldn’t see the home screen or open the applications. But it didn’t matter. They were impressed enough with the sleekness of the device and the elegant ease of swiping their finger to pull up the pass-code screen. They oohed and aahed as they made the gesture over and over again. They had never seen anything like it.
Like the rest of the world, Samsung’s executives and designers were awed by the iPhone, and they wanted something similar. Historically, companies chased each other all the time with products that looked the same. If one scored big with a product that was slightly different, others followed quickly with varying degrees of modification. That was how minor companies moved up the food chain. Samsung was no different. The company had access to plenty of top engineers and designers and didn’t lack for talent. But their main task was to look at popular products in the market and focus their energies on improving upon them. Part of its modus operandi was to use its manufacturing prowess and its relationships with its customers to follow rivals quickly from behind. When Motorola’s Razr phone was all the rage, Samsung’s executives demanded that its engineers outdo them with a similar phone that was even thinner than the Razr. The edict was the same with the iPhone.
The two industrial superpowers stood at the brink of global conflict. For months, their leaders and top lawyers flew back and forth across the Pacific, soaring above the clouds as they coldly appraised each other’s defenses and calculated the odds of whether it was better to avert the war that loomed between them or to let that war commence. The stakes were unimaginably high: Billions of dollars and the question of who would dominate the future of human communication.