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Apple’s Heir Apparent Is Much More Like Tim Cook Than Steve Jobs

Jeff Williams co-created the Apple Watch and runs the company’s global operations. Can he also handle design—and everything else?

Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, showing off new Apple Watch products at the company’s headquarters in 2017.

Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, showing off new Apple Watch products at the company’s headquarters in 2017.

When Apple announced the pending departure of Chief Design Officer Jony Ive last month, it threw the spotlight on an executive few outsiders know: Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams, who has now also taken over the company’s legendary design studio. This added fiefdom makes Williams unambiguously the second-most important person at Apple and Tim Cook’s heir apparent as CEO. And he’s very much in the mold of the current chief executive: a paragon of operational efficiency and even temper not prone to quite the same highs and lows of Cook’s more visionary predecessor, Steve Jobs.

Several current and former colleagues, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly, say that during his years as the company’s operations chief, Cook’s old job, Williams has distinguished himself as a modest, disciplined, demanding leader in the current CEO’s style. He’s negotiated with suppliers, shipped hundreds of millions of devices a year from Chinese factories to the rest of the globe, and been a bit more hands-on with product development than Cook, they say. Williams attends weekly reviews of product and industrial design progress, subsequently briefing Cook for a final signoff, and has been the lead executive shepherding the Apple Watch to market. Within Apple, Williams is broadly regarded as a strong choice for the top job, and current and former colleagues say management had been steadily positioning him as such long before Ive’s departure.