Filling in for larger-than-life Apple CEO Steve Jobs is no easy task, but COO Tim Cook must be doing something right.
For the second time in two years, Jobs is handing over the reins to his multi-billion dollar tech company to Cook, his second in command.
In announcing his medical leave of absence via a company-wide e-mail on Monday, Jobs wrote, "I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for all of Apple's day to day operations. I have great confidence that Tim and the rest of the executive management team will do a terrific job executing the exciting plans we have in place for 2011."
So who is the man who will be Apple's leader for the indefinite future, and what could Apple become if left under his control for good?
Cook Is Strong No. 2 But Not Replacement for Jobs, Says Analyst
In a call with analysts today, Cook tried to reassure investors by taking the role of chief cheerleader.
When asked about Apple's roadmap, he said he didn't want to divulge too much because, "I don't want to let anyone know our magic, I don't want anyone copying it."
But he did say that the company is doing its best work ever and is pleased with the products currently in the pipeline.
"The team here has an unparalleled breadth and depth of talent and a culture of innovation that Steve has driven in the company. And excellence has become a habit," he said. "We feel very, very confident about the future of the company."
Before Jobs recruited Cook to Apple in 1998, the now 50-year-old COO held positions at IBM, Intelligent Electronics and Compaq. He graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering and later earned an M.B.A. from Duke University.
Over the course of his career, analysts say he's earned a reputation as a strong performance manager, though not one with the personality or charisma of his boss.
"He's kind of like what Steve Ballmer was to Bill Gates," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "A guy that would be a very strong number two, but not by any stretch of the imagination a replacement for Steve Jobs."
Cook: Good Performance Manager but Lacks 'Magic
Soon after Jobs' own return to Apple in 1997, he recruited Cook from his post as vice president of corporate materials at Compaq, likely impressed with the boost he gave the growing company.
"He helped make Compaq what it was at the time," said Enderle. "He was one of the stronger managers at Compaq, he was well-regarded in the company."
At Apple, Cook continued to grow and has become a major driving force behind the company's strong and predictable financial performance, Enderle said.
But though an Apple under Cook's control may be perform well from an operations standpoint, it likely wouldn't pulse with Jobs' contagious energy.
"He's not the showman that Steve Jobs is. He doesn't have that skill set," Enderle said. "He's a good performance manager? [but] he doesn't have the magic."
Analyst: Cook Can Hold His Own Under the Spotlight
Tim Bajarin, Silicon Valley analyst and president of Creative Strategies, said Cook proved his readiness for Apple's top job when he subbed for Jobs during Jobs' six-month hiatus in 2009.
"Tim Cook and Apple's executive team already showed that they can keep Apple humming in Steve's absence," he said. "[Cook] has lived and breathed Apple for the past 10 years. He understands Steve's thinking. He understands Steve's vision and I have no doubt that Apple would be fine for the next 2 to 5 years."
Internally, Bajarin said, all of the groups within Apple report to both Jobs and Cook, meaning that, as COO, Cook not only handles the day-to-day operations, but is responsible for the complete execution of the company's vision.
Bajarin also said that though Cook would never claim to have the same eye for design as Jobs or Apple's top designer Jonathan Ive, Cook understands (and has given input on) what does and does not work from a design perspective. Cook's imprint is also evident in the efficiency of the company's successful brick-and-mortar stores, he said.
Will Steve Jobs Permanently Leave Apple?
While Cook doesn't share Jobs' commanding style when it comes to taking the stage, he still knows how to hold his own under the spotlight.
He may not be a "flashy showman," Bajarin said, but at this months' Verizon iPhone announcement, Cook was "he was just as animated and as confident as Steve Jobs is when he's up there."
Given how brightly Jobs' own star shines, Enderle noted it may be that the public hasn't yet had a chance to see all that there is to Cook.
"There are certain aspects to his life that we may not find out about until after Jobs is permanently gone," he said. "Steve Jobs doesn't really like anyone to outshine him, so that's going to make it difficult for us to find the gems in Cook's recent background."