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Tim Cook and Contradicting the Founder-CEO

In Silicon Valley, people like to talk about there being two types of CEOs: the “visionary founder” who started the company or the “professional manager” who steps in when the founder leaves or is pushed aside.

And there’s no doubting which of the two people prefer. Founder-led companies thrive, the stereotype goes (think Google and Facebook). Those run by non-CEOs struggle (think Twitter and Microsoft). Indeed, even when Satya Nadella took the reins at Microsoft, the company sought to legitimize the move by saying Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates would be spending more time at the company. The cult of the founder is strong.

I’ve been thinking about this oversimplified framework when it comes to Tim Cook, a CEO who has been in the news even more than usual this week amid talk of Apple building a car. (A little more on that later.)

Stuck in the particularly large shadow of one founder, Cook is challenging the stereotype in new ways—which becomes particularly clear when one debunks misconceptions that still exist about his management style.

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And while it is clear Cook isn’t a “product guy,” it’s simply wrong to see his role as a perfunctory manager and product dummy. Indeed, you can see his role clearly with the Apple Watch.