The Guy Behind the Guy at Apple

People often overlook the fact that Apple's more than just a successful design and marketing company—they're a well-run company, too. That's largely due to their #2 man, Tim Cook, profiled in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

When Mr. Jobs was recovering two years ago from surgery for pancreatic cancer, he placed the company's day-to-day operations in Mr. Cook's hands. Apple and people who know Mr. Jobs say the CEO is currently in good health and intends to remain at the company's helm for the foreseeable future.

Mr. Cook's low public profile notwithstanding, his contributions at Apple have earned him enough notice within technology circles that he is routinely solicited for CEO jobs, though the 45-year-old has voiced no near-term plans to leave Apple, say people who know him.

He pushed Apple parts suppliers to physically locate next to assembly plants for Apple products. That let the suppliers keep the parts in their inventory rather than Apple's own. By the end of the company's fiscal 1998 on Sept. 25 of that year, it held six days of inventory valued at $78 million, down from 31 days, or $437 million, the year earlier. Mr. Cook helped squeeze those figures down even further by the end of 1999, when inventory levels dropped to two days' worth, or about $20 million.

That's nearly a half-million of inventory off the books in three years. Apple's trailing 12 month inventory turnover ratio is 63.72, comparing favorably with efficiency poster boy Dell's 78.72, and blowing Gateway (19.82) and the big-iron-and-services-laden HP (9.86) out of the water. Apple manages to work this magic by making products people want (Steve's job) and keeping their manufacturing lean (Tim's job).

You can't help but wonder, though, when Steve goes (and, with his history with cancer, that could happen sooner than people—including Steve himself—might expect) is Tim the man to lead Apple?

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