Who Is John Ternus? Meet One of the Leading Contenders to Succeed Tim Cook as Apple CEO

  • Ternus has more than 20 years of experience at Apple, including over a decade as an executive. He has experience in both design and engineering. 

  • The vice president of hardware engineering is one of the few executives under 50.

John Ternus
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Tim Cook will turn 64 in November. Besides his age, Cook addressed his future at Apple a couple of years ago, when he stated that didn't expect to spend “another ten years as CEO.” Both factors foreshadow a logical move: The rise of someone new leading the company. 

Taking all of this into account, Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman has speculated that John Ternus, Apple's vice president of hardware engineering, is the favorite to succeed Cook as CEO. 

Why does it matter? Apple is the world’s second-largest company by market capitalization and the north star of consumer technology. Cook succeeded Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs 13 years ago and has led the company brilliantly in the development new products, such as the AirPods, Apple Watch, and Apple Vision Pro, as well as the the successful focus on its services division.

Cook’s leadership has increased the company’s value fifteen times over. Who will replace him—and how—is one of the industry’s great unknowns of the decade.

Age vs years at Apple

Factors in Ternus' favor. Ternus has been at the company since 2001, overseeing products such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac. He has the support of key executives within Apple and effective communication skills, which is especially important for a brand renown famous for its presentation and message. His technical profile, which integrates engineering and design, also aligns with the company’s core.

Moreover, at 48, he’s one of the youngest members of the current board. Although there are more suitable candidates to succeed Cook, such as Jeff Williams, Eddy Cue, or Greg Joswiak, their ages (61, 59, and 61, respectively) suggest a short career as Apple CEO. Someone less than 50 years old like Ternus has more than a decade left in their careers.

Apple's leadership chart

Factors against Ternus. Despite more than two decades at Apple and 11 years as a senior manager, Ternus' experience as a leader of high-level projects is limited. Cook became CEO after successfully managing Apple's operations, a highly sensitive and important area of the company.

In addition, another factor against him is his lack of experience in divisions like services, which is increasingly important for Apple, and global corporate strategy. He also hasn't worked much in areas such as finance or marketing.

Key information. In Gurman’s Bloomberg article, there are a few paragraphs that summarize many of the reasons to believe that Ternus has an advantage:

“Tim likes him a lot, because he can give a good presentation, he’s very mild-mannered, never puts anything into an email that is controversial and is a very reticent decision-maker,” says one person close to Apple’s executive team. “He has a lot of managerial characteristics like Tim.”
Christopher Stringer, a former top Apple hardware designer, called Ternus a “trustworthy hand” who’s “never failed with any role he’s been elevated to.” Eddy Cue, the Apple executive known as Cook’s closest confidant, has privately told colleagues that Ternus should be the next CEO, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Cue is Apple's senior vice president of Internet software and services. He's been with the company for nearly 40 years and is one of the executives who knows the company best and is most involved with it, blogger John Gruber explains in Daring Fireball. He was as much a right-hand man to Jobs as he is now to Cook. If Ternus has Cue’s blessing, the chance that he'll become Apple's next CEO increase considerably.

Image | Carles Rabadà on Unsplash | Apple

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