Apple's softer side emerges under CEO Cook

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"Those jobs aren't coming back." That's what Steve Jobs reportedly told President Barack Obama when asked at a dinner in early 2011 whether Apple would consider moving some of its manufacturing from China to the United States.

Jobs' successor, CEO Tim Cook, might have another response for Obama: Yes, we can.

Though the metal edges of its PCs and mobile devices are as sharp and severe as ever, Apple is emerging under Cook's leadership as a kinder corporate citizen. Cook's announcement this week that the company is moving the production of one of its Mac computer lines to the United States is just the latest step in a softening of the company's image following the October 2011 death of CEO and co-founder Jobs.

"Cook is a gentler being in terms of how he projects himself," says Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. That's partly of necessity, she says -- few people would tolerate Jobs-like arrogance in a new CEO -- but it's also a reflection of Cook's personality.

Cook was born in Alabama, and at age 52 it seems he is still very much a Southern gentleman. He joined Apple Inc. in 1998 from IBM Corp., where he worked for 12 years. Starting out as Apple's senior vice president of worldwide operations, he rose through the ranks to become chief operating officer. He made a name for himself as an expert organizer of manufacturing processes and a deft manager of supply chains.

Cook didn't say which computers Apple would make in the United States or where the company might locate new facilities. But bringing assembly-line jobs back home lights a symbolic beacon of hope for working-class Americans who worry that the global economy has no use for them.

Under Cook, Apple also has become more investor-friendly sharing its wealth for the first time in two decades by paying dividends of nearly $10 billion a year.

Carl Howe, an analyst with Yankee Group, says the image of a "softer" Apple that's emerged this year doesn't mean Cook is a softy. "He's very much of the Steve Jobs model, where if you're the janitor, you get to make excuses. If you're the vice president, you don't."

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