Entrepreneurs

Elon Musk Says He Never Asked to Be CEO of Apple. That Would Be the End of Apple

In a Los Angeles Times review of a new book about Tesla, there’s a story that Elon Musk and Tim Cook reportedly once met to talk about whether Apple should buy the electric vehicle (EV) maker. The conversation apparently happened at one of Tesla’s low points, the launch of the Model 3, which Musk says almost bankrupted the company

It’s worth noting that Musk has previously said that he was very much interested in having such a conversation, but Cook wouldn’t take the call. That differs from the Times report, which says the pair discussed the idea and that Musk told Cook he wanted to be CEO–of Apple. Cook, according to the story, hung up on Musk after expressing his thoughts with words I can’t use here. 

Apple has denied the story

The book bases the story on a secondhand source, apparently an employee that overheard the conversation. The point is that there’s a lot of room there for dramatic interpretation, especially since all parties deny such a conversation ever happened at all.

Whether Apple ever considered buying Tesla (I doubt it) or even had such a conversation, Elon Musk isn’t the person anyone should want designing iPhones and Macs. More importantly, he’s not the person who should be running Apple. That would be terrible for Apple.

I’m not suggesting that Musk isn’t one of the most accomplished entrepreneurs of his generation. The thing is, Apple isn’t a startup. It’s the world’s most valuable company, and it generated almost as much profit in the first quarter this year as Tesla’s entire annual revenue last year. 

Musk is clearly gifted at championing big ideas, even if they never actually come to fruition (self-driving cars, for example). To his credit, he’s also much more of a product guy than Cook. 

Apple’s current CEO reportedly doesn’t spend a lot of time designing products, especially in comparison to his predecessor, Steve Jobs, who was famously involved in the smallest details of everything Apple made. There are certainly some that would see Musk as more of a visionary leader more in the mold of Jobs

Certainly, you could make the argument that Apple could use a little more Jobs, especially if you’re in the camp that its products are starting to get a little dated–at least from a design perspective. It’s hard to think of the last product Apple introduced that had the same effect as the iPhone. 

However, that’s more a statement about just how transformational a product the iPhone was, and less an indictment of everything Apple has done since. The Apple Watch is the world’s most popular watch, outselling not only all other smartwatches but the entire Swiss watch industry.

AirPods, on their own, generate more than $12 billion a year, and are the company’s second-most successful product launch ever. Both products are incredibly successful, but Apple’s pace of innovation looks a lot different than it did 15 years ago. 

Cook, however, oversees a finely-tuned machine that consistently produces new products, and more importantly, hefty profits. Neither is especially true of Musk, who is far more known for making big promises and stirring up controversy on social media

The thing is, Musk’s promises and exaggeration are part of his salesmanship at Tesla. He makes extravagant claims and everyone sort of factors it into what you get with him at the top.

That’s definitely not the type of personality you want at the top of a company like Apple. Is Apple as exciting as it was in 2007 when it introduced the iPhone? I think we can all agree the answer is no. Still, the solution isn’t to set the entire thing on fire in pursuit of a little excitement. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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