Apple Inc. (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook has already begun grooming people who could replace him at the tech giant.
"I see my role as CEO to prepare as many people as I can to be CEO, and that's what I'm doing," Cook said in an interview with BuzzFeed. "And then the board makes a decision at that point in time."
Cook was joined by Angela Ahrendts, Apple's head of retail. Rumors have swirled that Ahrendts is being lined up to serve as Cook's successor, but she flat out denied that speculation, calling any talk "fake news" and "silly."
It's unlikely that Cook, 56, is planning to retire from the company any time soon, but people still like to guess who would succeed him if he did. Cook himself was caught up in those rumors less than a decade ago, when former CEO Steve Jobs first took a medical leave of absence from Apple. Cook later succeeded Jobs when he officially retired in 2011 and Jobs died about three months after Cook took the helm.
Though Ahrendts shut down any rumors of her being fit for the CEO role, her impressive past would lend her some of the experience necessary. Ahrendts most recently served as CEO of Burberry, where she was credited for reviving the struggling fashion brand. Since joining Apple in 2015, Ahrendts has helped build a new vision for Apple's retail stores, mostly geared toward turning them into community-focused "town squares." Not long after hiring Ahrendts, Cook described her success at the company as "off the charts."
"I knew she was going to be off the charts, but she's even more off the charts than I thought," Cook said in a 2015 interview with Fortune. "She came in so fast, there was no [learning] curve. I've never met a single individual like that before."
Aside from Ahrendts, names of other top Apple executives have been thrown around as well. Jony Ive, Apple's Chief Design Officer, is one person that comes to mind. Ive is a major force behind the iconic design of the iPod, iPhone and just about every other Apple product since the candy-colored iMac.
He may lack some of the leadership experience necessarily for the role, but some believe he inherited Jobs' former strengths as a chief visionary for Apple. Neil Cybart, a noted Apple analyst who writes about the company on his Above Avalon website, said earlier this year that Ive "now has the role that Steve Jobs had."
"They have Jony Ive in the middle focused on the big picture...and he now has the ability to spend time thinking about product, where Apple goes in terms of new industries," Cybart explained.
That said, others have noted that Ive has taken more of a backseat role at the company in recent years, focusing instead on architecture projects. That would make sense given that he most recently oversaw the construction of the construction of Apple Park, the company's new, 2.8 million square feet headquarters.
Phil Schiller, Apple's SVP of worldwide marketing, might be a better fit given his more than 20-year history at the company. Schiller, who played a big part in the original iPhone's development and launch, is a recognizable figure from Apple's annual September events. He's also in charge of the App Store, which has quickly risen to become a major cash cow for Apple, as part of the broader Services segment.
Apple's SVP of internet software and services, Eddy Cue, could also be a contender. Under his guise, Apple's Services business has grown to be the size of a Fortune 100 company. He's also helping Apple take on Hollywood by launching original programming.
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