By most accounts, Apple's new CEO is more analytical thinker than visionary, a mild-mannered but driven operations expert who revels in spreadsheets and made sure Steve Jobs had enough memory chips and other components to satisfy customers' endless appetite for shiny new gadgets.
But in a speech last year at his beloved Auburn University, Tim Cook urged an audience of young graduates to trust their intuition over logic or plans. It made no sense to take a job at Apple in 1998, a time when most people thought the company's best years were past, Cook said. "But no more than five minutes into my interview with Steve, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind."
How much Cook will draw on his intuition remains to be seen, now that he's formally replacing Jobs at the helm of tech's most profitable corporation and one of its most iconic. For now, analysts expect Cook will keep Apple's creative engine on track, as the company develops new products and services according to plans mapped out years in advance.
The 50-year-old Cook, who previously filled in for Jobs when the Apple co-founder stepped away from his CEO duties in the past, earned the respect of Wall Street and Apple's board by leading the company to record earnings during Jobs's most recent medical leave.
"Jobs has the charisma. He's the icon, the historic figure," said Tim Bajarin, a longtime Apple-watcher and tech industry consultant. "But when you meet Tim, you feel like he's in control. He's steering the ship."
Even so, Bajarin acknowledged, Cook is the polar opposite of his predecessor.
"You could call him the yin to Steve's yang. Their styles are totally different," Bajarin said. "Steve is arms-flying, high-energy. Tim is the guy who stands there and just quietly says, 'Here's what we're going to do.' "
That's been a big part of Cook's job at Apple for the past 13 years. The native Alabaman studied industrial engineering at Auburn before going to work for IBM, then moved to management jobs at Intelligent Electronics and Compaq, the big PC-maker later bought by Hewlett-Packard.
When he joined Apple, Cook recalled in his speech last year, Compaq was a thriving tech giant and Jobs had only recently returned to the struggling Cupertino company after being forced out in 1985. Friends gave him a host of reasons not to make the move, Cook said, but "it was without a doubt the best decision I ever made."
Jobs rejected several other candidates before hiring Cook to overhaul Apple's manufacturing and distribution networks, which were notoriously disorganized. Analysts credit Cook with cutting bloated inventory and replacing Apple factories with contract manufacturers, while shrewdly negotiating deals that locked in supplies of essential components at prices that helped Apple earn a healthy profit.
Cook also ran the company's Mac division before rising to the rank of chief operating officer. Apple has rewarded him with compensation estimated at $59 million last year.
While those who know him describe Cook as polite and personable, stories abound of his disarming intensity. He rarely raises his voice, which is soft and carries a hint of Southern accent. But he's notorious for firing off emails at 5 a.m., grilling subordinates on the details of financial reports and letting them squirm in awkward silence when he's not satisfied with their answers.
An Apple spokesman said Cook, who rarely speaks to the media, would not comment Thursday. The new CEO is said to be intensely private. He is single, lives in Palo Alto and reportedly is an avid bicyclist and hiker. He's also a big Auburn football fan, decorating his office and home with university mementos.
Cook has been gradually raising his public profile. He has left it to others to fill in for Jobs at the company's celebrated product launches. But Cook has frequently led conference calls with Wall Street analysts and appeared on stage when Verizon announced it would begin selling the iPhone.
"We believe Cook is a highly capable executive and deeply familiar with Apple's business plans, product road maps and operations," said Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Whitmore in a note to clients Thursday.
"We do not expect too much to change within the organization," reported J.P. Morgan's Mark Moskowitz. While "Steve Jobs' impact is lasting," he added, Apple's success "is the work of many, not one."
While there's little risk of immediate disruption, Whitmore said the question remains whether Cook will be able to maintain Apple's momentum beyond current product plans, which may last three to five years, depending on how long Jobs remains active on Apple's board.
But in a brief email sent to employees Thursday, Cook credited Jobs with building "a company and culture that is unlike any other in the world." He also promised that "Apple is not going to change."
Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022. Follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey.