10 Things I Learned Working for Tim Cook

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During the mid-90’s I was fortunate enough to work under Tim Cook (now Apple CEO) when I was a purchasing manager for a company called Intelligent Electronics (IE) and Tim was the COO. I was responsible for the relationship between IE and IBM.  Since Tim had just joined IE from IBM, he took a particular interest in the work I was doing so I got more of his time and attention than the average employee.

When you meet certain people you can tell they were destined for greatness. While IE was a $3B a year company (which was big in the mid 90’s) I could tell that Tim was not going to be around forever and was not surprised when he got the role at Compaq and then Apple.  As a procurement guy, nothing makes me happier than to see a fellow procurement or supply chain leader climb the ranks to the very top.

Reflecting on my time with Tim,  here are some of tactical, strategic and life lessons I picked up from him as both a mentor as well as a leader.

  1. Know your suppliers’ fiscal calendar. Seems simple but you would be surprised how many procurement professionals do not have this knowledge for their key suppliers.
  2. Find buy/sell solutions that work for both parties. A deal that is overwhelmingly lopsided will eventually turn sour on you.  
  3. Know your suppliers’ pain points. How are the salespeople measured that are selling to you and how can you work that to your advantage?
  4. Work with your suppliers to innovate. Tim was constantly about building a better mousetrap and not about old school fist pounding.
  5. Find time to exercise. Tim seemed to put in insane hours yet always found time to exercise, which I believe keeps him mentally fit. He would be proud of my 5:00 AM wake up call to run every morning.
  6. Just because you put in insane hours, do not expect your staff to feel any pressure to do the same. Tim was very good about expressing to his staff that he did not expect them to put in the same hours he put in.  
  7. Keep your personal life personal. Tim set an excellent example of how you can get to know your staff but still set excellent boundaries
  8. In the art of the deal, always build an out clause into it. He would never agree to anything that did not give us an out.
  9. Put people first. When I resigned my job at IE and gave him my personal reason for leaving he fully understand and did not attempt to talk me out of it. Had my reason to leave been business related he would have put up a fight
  10. Procurement deserves a seat at the leadership table. Tim knew that procurement was the tail that wagged the dog and made sure that leadership meetings always included representation from procurement. At IE, Procurement was always in the know.

While my time under Tim’s leadership was brief compared to others, it is clear that he left a mark on me just as he has for hundreds of others who have had the honor of serving under him. As a procurement guy, I can not help but root for Tim at Apple and hope that he is mentoring a legion of procurement professionals who can rise to CEO level. Some of us are old enough to remember when working in procurement may have meant you didn’t cut it in other roles in the company. Thanks to Tim and others like him, those days are quickly moving far behind us.

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