It looks increasingly like Steve Jobs' reign at Apple is over. If the CEO doesn't return from his third, indefinite medical leave, COO Tim Cook will succeed him, marking a new era not only for Apple but for gay progress.
Cook, who is running Apple in Jobs' absence, has been as reticent to acknowledge his sexual orientation as he has his prowess in overseeing the company supply chain. But as Jobs fades back, and as his absences grow more prolonged and uncertain, Cook will become, by necessity, a public figure.
Cook grew up in Robertsdale, Alabama, the son of a retired shipyard worker. He earned a Bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from Auburn University in 1982 and an MBA from Duke University in 1988. Before Apple, he did a stint at a computer reseller called Intelligent Electronics, worked in PC logistics for 12 years at IBM, and spent six months as VP for Corporate Materials at Compaq. He joined Apple in 1998 as senior vice president of operations, overseeing computer manufacturing. Cook was later promoted to chief of worldwide sales and of the Macintosh division.
Cook joined Apple in 1998, shortly after Jobs' return to the company, after withstanding Jobs' withering interview gauntlet. Jobs had rejected a string of other operations managers before meeting with Cook.
After Cook was profiled as a "lifelong bachelor" and "intensely private" elsewhere, we wondered if he might be gay. We've since heard from two well-placed sources that this is indeed the case, and it sounds like Cook's sexual orientation has been the topic of at least some discussion within the company. One tech executive who has spoken to multiple Apple management veterans about Cook was told executives there would support Cook if he publicly acknowledged his orientation, and even would encourage him to do so as he steps up his leadership role, but that they also had concerns about whether his coming out would impact the perception of the Apple brand.
Cook would be, by far, the most powerful openly gay executive in tech, trailed by Microsoft's openly lesbian HR chief Lisa Brummel and by Megan Smith, the former PlanetOut CEO now working as Google's vice president of new business development.
Read more about Apple CEO Tim Cook here.