As the Apple Ternus...

Might John Ternus succeed Tim Cook at Apple?
Tim Cook Can’t Run Apple Forever. Who’s Next?
John Ternus, the head of hardware engineering, is emerging as a potential successor to the CEO.

When I was thinking about an Apple announcements column this week, I started thinking about just how far Apple has been pushing the iPad to be a laptop, without actually becoming a Mac. With the new "MacBook-like" Magic Keyboard and landscape-oriented camera system, it's getting a bit awkward. Just make a touchscreen Mac already, Apple. Or, at least, let us boot macOS on the iPad if it has everything it needs to be a MacBook: M-series chip, keyboard, trackpad.

So why isn't Apple making the obvious moves here? Legacy, I believe. And so I originally titled yesterday's column as "Apple: Generations" – that is, it feels like a lot of what Apple does these days is to adhere to what they have been doing over the past couple of decades. And that, I believe, is in no small part because almost all of the executive team has been in place over that entire time. Dating back to the Steve Jobs-era. The savior, quite literally, of Apple.

In order for Apple to truly come up with "what's next" is it time to start thinking about who's next? Anyway, timely report from Mark Gurman on that very topic:

Several people familiar with Apple’s inner workings recently discussed the issue with Bloomberg Businessweek, requesting anonymity to speak about the sensitive subject. If Cook were to step down soon, these people say, he would almost assuredly be replaced by Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams, who emerged as the top candidate to be Cook’s successor a few years ago. In 2015, Cook named Williams Apple’s first COO since Cook himself held that role under Jobs. That same year, Williams shepherded the first major new product in the Cook era, the Apple Watch, to market. And, four years later, he replaced Ive as the head of hardware and software design.

But Williams, who’s 61 this year, is only two years Cook’s junior, and company insiders say they think it’s now unlikely he’ll be the new long-term chief. Apple’s board would probably want an executive who, like Cook and Jobs, would stick around for at least a decade. “If you asked me five years ago, it was very clear Jeff was leading the pack to become CEO,” says one longtime Apple executive. “But the slowness to refresh the C-suite leaves a problem with who you can bring on board.”

Cook, as Gurman notes, seems likely to stick around at least another few years. If nothing else, this will give him some time to keep pushing the just-launched Vision Pro, in the hope it can find its stride as the Apple Watch has. He undoubtedly doesn't want to go out with the large question marks around it today.

And to the point above, this probably takes Williams out of the running as the next CEO of Apple. Not because he's too old – though he is basically the same age as Cook – but because of the desire to put someone in place who will be there indefinitely, not someone who will lead to renewed succession talk almost immediately.

If Cook were to stay that long, people within Apple say, the most likely successor would be John Ternus, the hardware engineering chief. In a company whose success has always come from building category-defining gadgets, the ascension of a hardware engineering expert to the CEO job would seem logical. Ternus, who’s not yet 50, would also be more likely than other members of the executive team to stick around for a long time, potentially providing another decade or more of Cook-esque stability.

A few years ago, Ternus wouldn't have been on many peoples' radars, let alone as the front-runner to be the next Apple CEO. But there's no denying just how much Apple has been pushing him on up stage in the past couple of years. It's quite overt. To the point where I've noted it many times. Including, of course, this week:

I worry that today's Apple is still living in the shadow of Jobs. It's hardly surprising given that he was both the founder and savior of the company. But it's likely exacerbated by the fact that most of the key core executives today are still from Jobs' era and lineage. Schiller. Jeff Williams. Eddy Cue. Greg Joswiak. Sabih Khan. Johny Srouj. Deirdre O’Brien. Craig Federighi. Even the star of yesterday's show, the relative fresh-faced (in terms of being forward-facing – and clearly being set up for bigger things) Ternus has been at Apple since 2001. And, of course, Tim Cook. That's 9 of the 12 executives who have been there since the Jobs era – a few of them there before Jobs came back!

Yes, Ternus has been at Apple for 22 years, nearly half his life. If you want "fresh blood" he's not the pick. At the same time, he might be the perfect middle ground between the old guard and a complete outsider because he started at Apple quite junior and was only elevated to the executive tier three years ago. As Gurman reports, while he was at Apple for a long run of the Steve Jobs era, he was too junior to work with Jobs directly much, if at all. Again, he could be a good middle ground between old and new here.

And again, it's clearly no accident that Apple keeps pushing him on stage. For a while it seemed like they were doing this to Craig Federighi. But now it seems almost like he's more of an MC for events like WWDC as he's far more charismatic on stage than Tim Cook is. In presentations, Ternus seems a bit of a hybrid between Cook and Federighi, as I wrote last year:

Another name that comes to mind that is very good on-stage and on-screen? Someone who wasn’t showcased at all yesterday: Craig Federighi. Also, don’t overlook John Ternus, who has a quiet presence that resonates.

Though I'm not sure he's done an actual live event yet, only many of these taped presentations. WWDC could be interesting/telling that regard.

Anyway, a lot of interesting, if anecdotal tidbits about Ternus in Gurman's story. You always have to take such things with a grain of salt because anyone – certainly someone in the running for the top job – will have both boosters and detractors. But again, I think the most important thing to read here is just what Apple is doing with him, which is, clearly putting him front-and-center. That's not an accident.

Each spring, Apple holds what it calls the Top 100—a private executive offsite typically held in California’s Carmel Valley that brings together the most important people at the company. This March, Ternus was a prominent presence, helming the presentation of the company’s technology roadmap. He’d led this talk before, but more in the capacity of an emcee while a range of lieutenants went over individual areas. This year, he conducted the presentation himself. One person with knowledge of the event says the implication was clear: “He’s being groomed.”

You know who else was at his company for 22 years before being elevated to the top job? Satya Nadella.

Apple Brings a John Ternus to a Press Release
Obviously, Apple has a long history of announcing less-than-BOOM product refreshes via press release. But again, this is the first press…