But he wasn't talking about whizzy new products like the iPhone or iPad. Cook's expertise is in operations -- in the supply chain that produces those iPhones and iPads.
"The number of turns he did on the inventory was amazing," said Fadell, by way of example. "That's a kind of innovation."
As if to underscore that point, Bloomberg's Adam Satariano posted a long piece Wednesday about the record $10.5 billion in capital expenditures that Apple has earmarked in fiscal 2014 for things like aluminum milling machines, laser polishers and industrial robots.
"Apple deploys capital as a competitive advantage," says Asymco's Horace Dediu, who produced the attached chart comparing what Apple and Samsung each spend in a year with what the U.S. Navy spends in a dozen year to build a single aircraft carrier.
One of Dediu's commentators, writing under pseudonym Glaurung-Quena (literally, "dragon queen"), explained with admirable clarity what Tim Cook is up to:
Samsung owns big chunks of their supply chain -- if I recall correctly, they have their own fabs, they make their own screens, and probably a bunch of other parts too.
Apple doesn't own their supply chain outright -- they don't want to be in the semiconductor or screen making business, they don't want to have a camera or battery factory on their balance sheet.
But they want the control and vertical integration that Samsung enjoys. So they are signing oodles of partnership agreements and buying gobs of machine tools. Apple goes to a supplier and says, "Here is money to build a new factory building. Here, fill it with these machine tools that we own. Now what you make in this factory you will sell to us and only to us." And that company, or a branch of it, becomes Apple's indentured servant. Apple gets all the benefits and none of the liabilities of being a vertically integrated conglomerate.
And they're doing this across their entire supply chain -- from screens (sharp's IGZO tech) to those aluminum enclosures, about the only part that they aren't doing this with (yet) are the chips, and it's only a matter of time before they pay someone to build and operate fabs for them.
"Quality is not a fad, neither is sustainability," says the co-founder and CEO of Nest.
By Chanelle Bessette, reporter
FORTUNE -- Tony Fadell is the co-founder and CEO of Nest, a household product manufacturer that focuses on social and environmental sustainability. Prior to founding Nest he worked as the senior vice president of the iPod division and as advisor to the CEO for Apple. Nest creates "smart" household products like the programmable MORENov 13, 2013 11:29 AM ET
Ex-Apple SVP Tony Fadell first wowed consumers in 2011 by introducing a sleek thermostat. Now he's back, this time with an equally elegant smoke detector called Nest Protect.JP Mangalindan, Writer - Oct 8, 2013 9:00 AM ET
The former Apple VP who built 18 generations of iPods and 3 of iPhones breaks silence
FORTUNE -- We don't know what kind of legal constraints have prevented former Apple (AAPL) senior vice president Tony Fadell from speaking to the press about the circumstances that led to his departure in 2008, but apparently he felt it gave him enough wiggle room to talk to the BBC about the man who reportedly MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Nov 29, 2012 5:46 AM ET
Fortune's curated selection of newsworthy tech stories from the last 24 hours. Sign up to get the round-up delivered to you every day.
* Bloomberg reports that Apple (AAPL) may be developing a television set sporting what Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson is "the simplest user interface you could imagine." Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster predicts such a device could go on sale next year or in 2013. (Bloomberg)
* The "father of the iPod," MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Oct 25, 2011 10:40 AM ET
Tony Fadell leaves Apple nearly 17 months after losing the iPod/iPhone division
He came to Apple (AAPL) in 2001 with plans for building what would become the iPod. By 2006 he had replaced Jon Rubinstein -- who went on to build the Palm (PALM) Pre -- as head of Apple's iPod division, in charge of both what was then the company's biggest cash cow and the project that would become the MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 30, 2010 7:14 AM ET
In the end, they split it down the middle.
On Tuesday, International Business Machines (IBM) announced that it has resolved the lawsuit against a newly appointed senior vice president at Apple Inc. (AAPL) that was, for a brief moment last November, the hottest story in technology -- a bi-coastal drama that pitted one of the world's largest and most established computer companies against one of the brashest.
The case involved Steve Jobs' MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 27, 2009 3:10 PM ET
Steve Jobs' high-profile raid on IBM's managerial ranks hit a snag on Friday.
A judge in White Plains, N.Y., ordered Mark Papermaster -- IBM's (IBM) former top microprocessor executive and Apple's (AAPL) newest senior VP -- to immediately stop working for Jobs.
It's the latest chapter in a bi-coastal drama that pits one of the world's largest and most established technology companies against one of the brashest. Here's a timeline:
January 2008: Robert MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Nov 8, 2008 6:37 AM ET
UPDATE: Reading Mark Papermaster's statement in full, I discover that it had been taken it out of context. The full quote, reproduced at the bottom of this post, makes a lot more sense. My apologies to Mr. Papermaster.
- - -
"I do not recall a single instance of Apple being described as a competitor of IBM during my entire tenure at IBM."
I did mental double take when I read those MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Nov 7, 2008 6:08 PM ET
Big news for Apple in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal: The company is losing one of its stars, Tony Fadell.
If Steve Jobs didn't loom so large in Apple's public persona -- drawing the spotlight at every appearance -- a lot fewer people would be asking that today.
Fadell was -- and until he leaves at an as-yet undisclosed time for "personal reasons," still is -- the top engineer in a company MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Nov 4, 2008 9:05 AM ET
|Teen millionaire helping Yahoo become cool again|
|Five things you didn't know about Bernie Madoff's epic scam|
|Stocks falter as budget deal raises taper risk|
|What the budget deal doesn't do|
|Obamacare: 365,000 have signed up for insurance on exchanges|