Tech CEOs increasingly admire Elon Musk's harsh leadership style, but they should actually take cues from Apple's Tim Cook

Tech CEOs increasingly admire Elon Musk's harsh leadership style, but they should actually take cues from Apple's Tim Cook
Industry experts say Tech CEOs might be better served following Tim Cook's example rather than Elon Musk.Brendan Smialowski/AFP, Richard Drew/Associated Press
  • Amazon and Meta are doing more layoffs, making Apple's lack of job cuts stand out even more.
  • Experts attribute Apple's stability and durability to CEO Tim Cook's steady leadership style.

With Amazon and Meta each conducting a second round of layoffs, it's got many wondering how much deeper these major companies can cut.

It also makes Apple's stability, and the fact that it hasn't held any major layoffs in recent memory, stand out all the more.

To be fair, Apple was already in a slightly better position than other tech giants. The company didn't hire as aggressively during the pandemic as its peers. And it's long had an overall slower, more measured approach to growth. It's an style that industry analysts said comes from CEO Tim Cook himself.

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Still, Apple hasn't been immune from the larger economic pressures battering the tech sector. But instead of cutting jobs, Cook is pinching pennies elsewhere: Bloomberg reported last week that Apple is taking steps like delaying bonuses, pushing back new projects like a HomePod with a screen, and pausing hiring on several teams.

On the surface, it's a vastly different approach from Elon Musk, who since buying Twitter for $44 billion has taken a hard line approach by slashing costs, chopping headcount, and closing offices. Musk's relentless focus on shrinking Twitter while growing its ambitions is something the industry is watching closely. If Musk's Twitter is successful, it'd pave the way for CEOs and investors to follow suit.


"Every CEO in Silicon Valley has looked at what Elon Musk has done and has asked themselves, 'Do they need to unleash their own Elon within them?" Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff told Insider earlier this month. It's "unorthodox" but "you can't underestimate what he's done," Benioff said.

However, a closer look at both Musk and Cook's strategies suggests they're not as different as it appears, and CEOs might be better served following Cook's lead rather than Musk, experts said.

The lessons CEOs can learn from Cook, the experts say, are that quiet prudence and practicality are always in fashion. It means that when times are bad, you don't need to take a Musk-style slash-and-burn approach.

"I think you'll see those types of companies start to embracing Apple's playbook," Gene Munster, managing partner at Deepwater Asset Management, said. "The playbook is just because things are good doesn't mean you should hire or you still need to be judicious about how you're spending."

Cook and Musk are both bringing employees back to the office

Musk is a flashy, highly-visible leader who's well known for setting ambitious, often impossible-sounding goals and then pushing his teams at firms like SpaceX and Tesla as hard as necessary to get there.


By contrast, Cook's approach at Apple is often described as "pragmatic" and "risk averse," as Insider previously reported.

Still, there's some overlap in their styles. Musk sent Twitter employees a late-night memo last week saying the "office is not optional," noting that its San Francisco office was "half empty" on his most recent visit, as Platformer's Zoë Schiffer first reported.

As Bloomberg reports, Apple has become strict about office attendance — employees are typically expected to come in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Some workers see it as a precursor to the company firing employees who don't meet the requirement, Bloomberg reported.

Cook's style is more boring, but builds trust

While it's fundamentally a very similar policy, Cook's approach is likely less detrimental to employee happiness and company culture, because it's more consistent, experts said.

It's much easier to reverse the policies and regain employee trust by being more measured to begin with, said Anna Tavis, a professor at NYU School of Professional Studies. Musk broke trust with employees with his severe tactics, and every extreme action only makes the situation deteriorate further.


"What's terrifying about what Musk is doing, is it's complete terror," Tavis said. "Really, that's the word. Because it not clear. It's impulsive, it's emotional, it's very subjective."

Meanwhile, Apple has always had a more thoughtful, intentional approach, she said. The company has earned the benefit of the doubt from its employees. "It's a much better way to do it because people understand why," even if they don't agree, Tavis said.

For example, Apple likely faces fallout from its policies around office attendance, but less so than if the move came in the aftermath of a mass layoff.

Munster does note that Apple's culture is not the same as it was three or four years ago, some of which could be attributed to the cost-cutting efforts. "But that's the case with every company," he said. "I think Apple has probably maintained their culture better than a lot of these big tech companies."