Apple's Cook, in First Year as CEO, Would Make Jobs Proud

James Rogers

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's been 12 months to the day since Tim Cook took over at Apple(:AAPL), replacingthe company's iconic co-founder, Steve Jobs.

An operations guru and 14-year Apple veteran, Cook nonetheless faced a daunting task when he stepped into Jobs' shoes on Aug. 24, 2011. The company's shares took an initial hit on news of Jobs' resignation, and doubts were raised about the low-key Cook's ability to keep Apple employees inspired and innovating after Jobs died two months later.

Cook, however, has kept Apple moving forward, successfully overseeing the launches of the iPhone 4S, the new iPad and the iOS 6 operating system, as well as a major Mac refresh. Set against this backdrop, Apple's stock has surged, recently hitting another all-time high of $674.88. The company's shares have climbed more than 86% since Cook became CEO.

With Apple's eagerly anticipated iPhone 5 expected to debut soon, and rumors of an iPad Mini and maybe even an Apple TV continuing to swirl, there are plenty of potential catalysts to move Apple's stock higher.

While few people could match Steve Jobs as a tech visionary, the 51-year-old Cook has undoubtedly proved his abilities as a CEO.

"He's an end-to-end thinker, and he understands every nook and cranny, not only of Apple, but the industry," said Daniel Walker, Apple's former chief talent officer, during an interview last year. "He's capable of diving deep into the details, but he's also capable of standing back and looking at the much wider battleground."

The soft-spoken Auburn and Duke grad has already stamped his mark on Apple, most notably by reversing the company's dividend strategy. Whereas his predecessor preferred to keep hold of Apple's vast cash hoard, Cook has taken the company on a different path, announcing a quarterly dividend $2.65 per share and a $10 billion share buyback in March.

Apple, which once was on the brink of bankruptcy, stopped paying a dividend in 1995, but Cook hinted that he would change the company's stance after assuming the CEO role last year.

Like many investors, Michael Yoshikami, CEO and founder of Destination Wealth Management, welcomed the move.

"Apple's decision to return some of their trove of cash to shareholders not only makes sense, but makes it more appealing as an investment," he wrote in a recent email to TheStreet. "It's important to note that the amount of dividend is a small percentage of their overall cash, and Apple will continue to have the problem of excess cash as long as they continue to deliver world-class product."

Apple exited its recent fiscal third quarter with cash totaling $117.2 billion. Revenue totaled $35 billion and net profit was a staggering $8.8 billion.

Cook has also proved a more visible public presence than his predecessor, and has moved toward building a more transparent company. Amid mounting criticism of its Chinese manufacturing partners, for example, Apple announced voluntary audits of its final assembly suppliers, most notably Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu.

As for longer-term innovation, Cook may not have Steve Jobs to call on, but he does have a deep bench packed with talent such as British design guru Jonathan "Jony" Ive.

"The company is so large that no one individual today drives all the elements of the business from a talent standpoint or from a strategic standpoint," said Walker, now CEO of The Human Revolution Studios, a talent consulting firm. "There are a lot of talent builders within the company."

And that may prove to be Cook's ace in the hole. While Jobs ruled with an autocratic style -- heading up design, engineering and marketing -- Cook knows it takes more than one person for Apple to innovate, and execute, without making one single mistake.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

Follow @jamesjrogers

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