Fortune has today named Tim Cook #1 on its list of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, publishing an extensive profile of the Apple CEO in which he reflects on the lessons he’s learned in the time he’s been running the company.

Taking over from Steve was not, he said, an easy transition, and he gained a new appreciation for the way that the co-founder had shielded him and the rest of the team from public criticism.

What I learned after Steve passed away, what I had known only at a theoretical level, an academic level maybe, was that he was an incredible heat shield for us, his executive team. None of us probably appreciated that enough […] but he really took any kind of spears that were thrown. He took the praise as well. But to be honest, the intensity was more than I would ever have expected.

Claims that Apple had lost its ability to innovate under Cook’s leadership were, he said, something he had to learn to block out … 

Cook said he’d always had the skill of blocking out the noise, but had to take it to a whole new level when he took over as CEO.

I thought I was reasonable at that before, but I’ve had to become great at it […]

I’m not running for office. I don’t need your vote. I have to feel myself doing what’s right. If I’m the arbiter of that instead of letting the guy on TV be that. or someone who doesn’t know me at all, then I think that’s a much better way to live.

Senior VP Eddy Cue said that Cook “never tried to be Steve [but] tried to always be himself.”

Cook said that he’d made mistakes along the way, giving the example of his decision to hire former UK Dixons head John Browett, a man not noted for his people skills.

That was a reminder to me of the critical importance of cultural fit, and that it takes some time to learn that. [As CEO] you’re engaged in so many things that each particular thing gets a little less attention.

The woman Cook chose to replace Browett as retail head, Angela Ahrendts, says that she did not initially think she’d accept the post (“My life was perfect”) but was completely won over by Cook.

I just absolutely loved his integrity, his values. Nothing anybody can write, say, or do is going to take him off of always doing the right thing. Not just for Apple, but for Apple’s people, for communities, for countries. The world needs more leaders like Tim.

The feeling is, says Cook, mutual.

She’s a perfect culture fit. Within a week, it felt like she’d been there a year. And now it feels like she’s been there multiple years. When you start to finish each other’s sentences, this is a good thing.

Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior VP of operations, says that the CEO is not fazed by failures, like the GT Advanced Technologies mess, where Apple had to abandon its plans to buy high-volume sapphire displays from the now-bankrupt company.

When I informed Tim of the problem, his response was, ‘Let’s see what we can learn from it.’

Cook himself says it’s all about thinking of the long-term, which is why he also resists pressure from investors who want Apple to do things differently.

The kind of investors we seek are long term because that’s how we make our decisions. If you’re a short-term investor, obviously you’ve got the right to buy the stock and trade it the way you want. It’s your decision. But I want everybody to know that’s not how we run the company.

The decision to make senior execs more available to the media stemmed from the same desire to think of the long-term good of the company.

My objective is to raise the public profile of several of the folks on the executive team, and others as well. Because I think that’s good for Apple at the end of the day.

Cook was praised for his decision to come out as gay, but says that the decision had not been an easy one.

“To be honest, if I would not have come to the conclusion that it would likely help other people, I would have never done it,” he says. “There’s no joy in me putting my life in view.” Referencing the often-cited line that ‘to whom much is given, much is required,’ Cook says, “I’ve certainly been given a lot.”

Changing the world has, he says, always been a bigger priority than making money. As for his own personal fortune – around $120M in stock as of today, with a further $66M vesting later – he doesn’t plan to keep it.

He plans to give away all his wealth, after providing for the college education of his 10-year-old nephew […] Cook says that he has already begun donating money quietly, but that he plans to take time to develop a systematic approach to philanthropy rather than simply writing checks.

The full profile is well worth reading.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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