* COO Tim Cook seen as steady stand-in for Jobs
* Apple stock up 60 percent under last stint
* Seen as eventual successor as CEO
By Bill Rigby
SEATTLE, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Steve Jobs’ third medical leave from Apple Inc (AAPL.O) ushers in a third stint in charge for his No. 2 Tim Cook, the low-profile but highly regarded executive tipped to lead the company one day.
The 50-year-old Alabama native, who has been at the company since 1998, was seen as a safe bet to run Apple’s day-to-day operations while Jobs was away for medical reasons in 2009. During that time, the company prospered and its stock jumped 60 percent.
Although lacking Jobs’ showmanship — he is not known for pitching products on stage — Cook is regarded as the effective force behind Apple’s day-to-day operations.
But last week, it was Cook, not Jobs, who took the stage in New York to announce that its popular iPhone would be available to customers of Verizon Wireless (VZ.N), the top U.S. mobile operator.
“I spent some time with Tim Cook last week in New York, and walked away from my discussion with him thinking that he was much more in charge at Apple then people think,” said Tim Bajarin, president of research firm Creative Strategies. “He has emerged as a most competent person who could carry Steve Jobs’ vision into the future.”
Apple investors and board of directors appear to agree.
The company’s shares rose 60 percent between Jobs’ last leave of absence between mid-January and late June 2009.
Its board awarded him a cash and stock bonus valued at about $22 million for that stint, at Jobs’ recommendation, citing his “outstanding performance in assuming the day-to-day operations.”
Cook’s total compensation for 2010 was $59 million, mostly in stock awards, according to the company’s latest filing with securities regulators.
Many believe Cook will one day succeed Jobs as CEO at Apple, although the company has never disclosed any succession plan.
“Since Jobs returned to Apple, he has created a powerful management team that really does understand how he thinks and his vision and direction for Apple,” said Bajarin. “This team is more the capable of keeping that vision alive and continues to innovate well into the future.”
Cook, who also took the helm at Apple briefly in 2004, when Jobs was recuperating from pancreatic surgery, was named chief operating officer in 2005, making him responsible for sales and operations and the company’s complex and far-flung supply chain. He is credited with pulling Apple out of making its own devices and putting in place tight outsourcing agreements with manufacturers in China.
Cook also manages sales, service and support and leads the company’s Mac computer division, whose sales have been surging over the past few years.
His talents appear to be in high demand. Last year there was talk he would take over as CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N), briefly sending Apple’s shares down until Cook himself dismissed the rumor as untrue.
Before joining Apple, Cook was vice president of procurement at computer maker Compaq, then the leader of the personal computer market, which was subsequently acquired by HP. He also worked for 12 years at International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N).
“Even if Steve Jobs never returns to Apple, I would not expect a visible, tangible impact on how Apple is executing over the next couple of years,” said Alexander Peterc, an analyst at Exane.
Editing by Richard Chang