Meet Jeff Williams, Tim Cook’s successor

Tue, Sep 13, 2011


With Tim Cook now permanently and firmly entrenched as Apple’s new CEO, there’s a new Apple executive on the block worth noting and his name is Jeff Williams. With everyone theorizing about Cook’s ability to fill the shoes of Steve Jobs, there’s been scant mention of Williams’ role as Apple’s Senior VP of operations and his ability to take on many of Cook’s responsibilities.

While Apple executives like Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall are relatively well-known entities within Apple’s upper echelon, we don’t know much about Williams. Fleshing things out a little bit, JP Mangalindan of profiled Williams, who first joined Apple in 1998, for the upcoming issue of Fortune.

A health-minded cyclist (like Cook), Williams is known as an intensely private, salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. According to Apple lore he drove around in a beat-up Toyota with a broken passenger-side door even after he was appointed to management. Those who know him say he’s even-keeled and direct, a good coach who will go over a problem with employees, explain what they need to do better, and move on.

As a mechanical engineering major at North Carolina State University, Williams spent a week in a training program at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C. There he examined his strengths, weaknesses, and interactions with others. The program left a lasting impression: He now sends Apple middle managers to similar courses. After college, he worked at IBM and picked up an MBA from the same Duke University evening program as Cook. (The two didn’t overlap.) He joined Apple in 1998 as head of worldwide procurement.

With Cook now running the show, Williams will be responsible for handling the duties Cook was previously praised for executing so brilliantly such as overseeing Apple’s supply chain deals, negotiating contracts with wireless carriers, and ensuring the efficient production and delivery of Apple products throughout the world.

But it’s not as if Williams is a rookie at this. Williams, for example, is credited with Apple’s gargantuan flash memory purchase in 2005 where it acquired upwards of 40% of Samsung’s NAND flash memory output ahead of the ’05 holiday shopping season. Consequently, Apple received a good price from Samsung on account of its bulk purchase and effectively cornered the market on flash memory as well, leaving some competitors in the dust for quite some time. Over the past few years Williams also led Apple’s worldwide operations for the iPod and iPhone.

Mangalindan sums things up quite appropriately when he writes, “His attention to the small stuff will serve him well in the years to come. Because, while Cook may have some pretty big shoes to fill, so does Williams.”


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