Apple exited its recent fiscal third quarter with cash totaling $117.2 billion. Revenue totaled $35 billion and net profit was a staggering $8.8 billion.

Cook has also proved a more visible public presence than his predecessor, and has moved toward building a more transparent company. Amid mounting criticism of its Chinese manufacturing partners, for example, Apple announced voluntary audits of its final assembly suppliers, most notably Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu.

As for longer-term innovation, Cook may not have Steve Jobs to call on, but he does have a deep bench packed with talent such as British design guru Jonathan "Jony" Ive.

"The company is so large that no one individual today drives all the elements of the business from a talent standpoint or from a strategic standpoint," said Walker, now CEO of The Human Revolution Studios, a talent consulting firm. "There are a lot of talent builders within the company."

And that may prove to be Cook's ace in the hole. While Jobs ruled with an autocratic style -- heading up design, engineering and marketing -- Cook knows it takes more than one person for Apple to innovate, and execute, without making one single mistake.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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