Leadership, diversity and equality: An audience with Tim Cook

12 Nov 2015

Apple's CEO Tim Cook told audiences in Dublin and Cork that Apple is rooted in Ireland

On a visit to Dublin and Cork where Apple is adding 1,000 new jobs, CEO Tim Cook spoke movingly about leadership, the future of computing, diversity, coming out as a gay man, how Apple is rooted in Ireland and the essence of achieving brand loyalty.

Yesterday (11 November) Cook was at Trinity College Dublin where he was presented with an honorary patronage by the University Philosophical Society (the Phil) at a special ceremony in the Lecture Hall. Later in the day he visited the company’s operations in Cork at the southern end of the country, which will be boosted to 6,000 workers through the addition of 1,000 new jobs in the next-year-and-a-half.

At Trinity, he strode purposely to the dais and joked about how the chair provided for him was like a throne. The irony of the real king of Silicon Valley joking modestly about a throne wasn’t lost on the packed hall of students and academic staff.

‘Apple in Cork has been with us through the good times and challenging times. We don’t just see us as located here but rooted here, not just in terms of business but values, tolerance, diversity and equal opportunities in and out of the workplace’

Dressed immaculately in a tailored blue suit, Cook looks a lot younger in person than he does in media, and brings a spot of Californian sunshine and energy into a historic hall weighed down by an uneasy history on this island. He smiles broadly, is full of quick humour and is open and thoughtful in his answers.

His easygoing, candid nature and slight southern twang belie the reality that this is a man who is at the helm of a company valued at almost a trillion dollars, which sold more than 48m iPhone smartphones in the last quarter and who sits upon a war chest of approximately $200bn.

This is the man who as an operational genius helped guide the late Steve Jobs to turn Apple around from near-bankruptcy two decades ago to being the most profitable company on the planet today and who stepped into the CEO role when Jobs lost his battle with cancer in 2011.

He is also the CEO who came out as a gay man and who has spoken bravely about diversity and discriminatory legislation in the US.

Looking around the room, Cook said he was incredibly honoured to be in a city where some of the most enduring literary works of all time were produced. “They were produced by hand and by typewriter, imagine what they could have done with an iPad?” he joked.

Apple is rooted in Ireland

He said that Ireland is a country that for Apple feels a lot like home and that Apple was active in Ireland long before the Mac. “We’ve been doing business in Ireland for 35 years. We’re proud to be the largest private employer in Cork. I first came to Cork as an Apple employee 18 years ago,” he said, expressing how even back then he was struck by the diversity and talent of the teams he worked with.

“We have over 5,000 employees in Cork and we will be expanding that to 6,000 over the next year-and-a-half. Apple in Cork is a quarter of our European workforce and we are continuing to expand the facility, which is our largest in Europe. It is also one of our most diverse offices on the planet, operationally and culturally, with people from more than 80 countries working there. Apple in Cork has been with us through the good times and challenging times. We don’t just see us as located here but rooted here, not just in terms of business but values, tolerance, diversity and equal opportunities in and out of the workplace.”

Cook said that Apple has just one simple mission: “To leave the world better than we found it.” This he aims to achieve through Apple and its suppliers becoming 100pc reliant on renewable energy and using sustainable materials in all of its products.

He also said that Apple was helping transform education. “Education is a fundamental human right and a profound way to shape our future.”

He also said that he was proud of the role of the iPhone in terms of economic and human progress.

Turning his gaze on Ireland, and specifically Trinity College, he said: “I’m gratified by the changes I’m seeing all around me. For centuries men and women, Catholics and Protestants, couldn’t study together. Today diversity of religions and perspectives is a big part of education.

“None of this happened by accident – it took young people to fight for change and push back discrimination.

“It takes courage to overcome oppression and Ireland knows a thing or two about courage. Imagine the impact your vision can have on a world in which we respect our differences and see our differences as strengths. A world where all are equal.”


‘Allow your inner voice to come out and keep an eye on your own star – that’s what leadership is about’

Cook praised the resolve and leadership Ireland has shown in times of war, mustering courage for peace. “The Irish Defence Forces has engaged in peacekeeping since joining the United Nations a half century ago, a record no other nation can match. Ireland has led the civilian fight for human rights, LGBT causes globally, it fought to defend vulnerable children and defend freedom of expression on the internet. For these reasons and many more Apple is proud to call Ireland home.”

Cook said Ireland has a whole legacy of thinking and writing that has changed the world and he quoted Oscar Wilde: “One duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.”

He told the students they have no obligation to the past but to the future: “History ahead has yet to be written and you are the ones who get to write it. Write that history in a way that is true to your values, write it in a way that is better than the way you found it.”

Tim Cook on leadership

Cook said that his philosophy on leadership is that now more than ever it is important that people stay true to their values. “The toughest decisions become simpler if you keep that in mind.”

He said that sticking true to core values is the best business methodology. “You could read a book a day on leadership strategies. If I was you I wouldn’t read any of them.

“Allow your inner voice to come out and keep an eye on your own star – that’s what leadership is about.”

Tim Cook on brand loyalty

Asked why people are so insanely loyal to Apple products, almost in a religious way, Cook was generous in his response. He recalled joining Apple when the company was on the verge of bankruptcy in the late 1990s. “But the thing that was different was that it had customers who cared deeply about the company.”

He noticed that people would get emotional about Apple products. “But that was different for other tech companies, people didn’t complain about other tech companies’ products in the same way.

“If you care enough, you feel angry, you feel emotional and you care enough to yell and complain – for a company to have customers that care is the greatest privilege in the world.

“Why do they care? Because Apple cares enough.

“We make mistakes like anybody else, but you can tell if you are using an Apple product that someone took great care to make it. You can see it had been thought through at every layer and that’s the reason customers care – a reciprocal emotion. Apple cares about the products that the customers care about. We don’t view the buying experience as the same thing. It’s about making customers’ lives better.

‘We have product goals and by enriching customers’ lives we believe revenues and profits come as a result’

“We are in the empowerment business, so customers can do things they couldn’t before. When working with these emotions, care more about people who care deeply about you.

“Many businesses don’t care. Their goals in life are market share and revenue, numerical things. We don’t have any of that. We have product goals and by enriching customers’ lives we believe revenues and profits come as a result. It’s a different way of looking at the world.”

Tim Cook on encryption, privacy and human rights

Cook has been quite outspoken about the Investigatory Powers Bill being promoted by the UK’s home secretary Theresa May, which proposes that internet companies leave a backdoor for spy agencies and police services to access their security systems.

He believes the bill could be a recipe for disaster.

“It’s a bit vague about surveillance and the intention of the UK government is good national security. And all of us would say that we want to be secure and have the bad guys shipped off somewhere but the reality of today is there are hackers everywhere. People want to take your data, there are bad governments in the world and bad people in the world and if you leave a backdoor in software there’s no such thing as a backdoor for the good guys only.


Tim Cook visiting the historic library at Trinity College Dublin

“We feel strongly that the safest approach is for the world to encrypt end-to-end with no back door. This protects the most people. Encryption is not something only a few companies have, it’s not something you can regulate. If you close down a few companies it’s not like the bad guys don’t have encryption of their own. They’ll just go to another source.

“We strongly feel and continue to encrypt iMessage end-to-end. We would end up exposing the 99.999pc if we don’t. Your personal information is yours, not ours. We don’t own your data. We don’t collect it. We don’t feel we should have your personal data, you are not our product.

“If we convince you to buy our iPhone we will make a bit of money, but we don’t want to know the juicy bits about your life. We are for privacy. Your information is yours and you should keep it. We intend to encrypt end-to-end with no backdoor.”

Tim Cook on LGBT and battling discrimination

When a student asked him about his status as an openly gay CEO and his ability as a gay person to effect change, Cook was emphatic: “I don’t think about power.”

He explained that is was really about responsibility. “I have valued my privacy in an exaggerated way compared to most people; it was very important to me. Sometime after becoming CEO it became clear to me that I could help some number of people by being more public about my life.

‘There was no amount of donation I could ever make that would influence as much as me just standing up and being proud to be gay and that being gay was God’s greatest gift to me’

“My focus was on youth. I saw and I heard from kids being bullied in school, essentially being disclaimed by their own families, people being fired at work because they were gay … I came to the conclusion that I needed to do something.

“There was no amount of donation I could ever make that would influence as much as me just standing up and being proud to be gay and that being gay was God’s greatest gift to me.

“We need more people to do it. I’m not one to visit people that I know are gay and say ‘you need to come out’. I hope they do. But the single most important thing to move society, the most important thing by far is when you find out that a neighbour, brother, sister, son – somebody who has a connection to you [is gay] – it makes life more real and opinions change.

“I would encourage people, not just from business, but athletes, entertainers to politicians to professors and so on, and the more people in rural Ireland or rural US who can sit and say ‘Wow, if he or she can do that, I can do that. My life must not be for nothing’ [the better].

“People standing up being proud to be who they are is one thing, but we have this in all of us to do it. It’s not a power thing, that’s how I feel.”

Tim Cook on diversity

Cook said that diversity of sex and race is the heart and soul of Apple today.

“I feel very strongly that the better products we produce the more diverse the team that produces them,” he said. “A diverse team is more than academic, they bring life experience.

“I strongly believe that the best companies in the future will be the most diverse, will embrace inclusion and diversity and I hope it becomes a part of the history of the business world.”

‘Companies that are just saying they are trying to improve diversity but are not thinking through their talent pools, are not making a change’

He said that Apple traditionally would have recruited students from the top universities in the US like Stanford and Berkeley but has changed tack to include many more universities that would produce a more diverse range of graduates.

“You have to open your aperture and you cannot select from the same universities.”

Cook said that the discrepancy in the numbers of male vs female graduates in computer science and engineering was appalling.

“Why is that? It’s because we have done a terrible job of making computer science and engineering sound interesting at a junior high level, for example. We are trying to do things like coding camps and so forth to express the things they can do by learning how to code.

“Companies that are just saying they are trying to improve diversity but are not thinking through their talent pools, are not making a change.”

Tim Cook on Apple Pay

When asked about Apple’s fintech priorities since it successfully launched Apple Pay in the UK and US, Cook said: “Apple has no intention of becoming a bank.”

Instead, he said he sees Apple as an enabling force toward a more secure future for financial transactions.

“With Apple Pay, a one-time numerical transaction number is used and with that happening credit card theft goes into the background.”

He reiterated his point about privacy and data. “We’re not going to collect credit card data. We decided to fit a framework and make it simple, elegant and private.

“We have many more countries, including Ireland, to go in rolling out Apple Pay and, with Apple Watch, it is so cool and so fast.

“Money is eventually going to go away – your kids won’t know what money is,” he said to gushes of surprised laughter from students who are no doubt used to being penniless most of the time.

Tim Cook on iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface

Cook said he was very bullish about the potential of the iPad Pro, which goes on sale worldwide this week. He said that he believes it will return the iPad product set to growth.

In recent months, Apple unveiled the 12.9-inch iPad Pro for the first time, along with the new Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard.

The device went on sale this week online and will be in retail stores on Friday (13 November), with prices starting at €939.

Responding to a question about the iPad Pro and whether it will compete with Microsoft’s Surface line-up, Cook said that Apple works closely with Microsoft on a lot of things.

However, when it came to the Surface device he said that it was trying to be two things: a tablet computer and a notebook. “That’s cool in some ways, but overall the result is not the best tablet and not the best notebook; it’s a diluted kind of thing.”

He said that the iPad Pro won’t be diluted or try to be something else; it is fundamentally an iPad.

“It gives you access to 1.5m apps, the entire iOS ecosystem, and there are apps that will come out that are oriented to the iPad Pro. It comes with a physical keyboard made especially for those of you who write a lot.

“I travel extensively with just my iPad Pro and iPhone. That’s all I carry. Are we losing share to Microsoft? I don’t see it.”

Ultimately he explained that Apple’s Mac products might be more expensive than a rival PC but that’s just because they are better and cost less in the long-run.

“IBM recently began converting the whole company over to Mac when they found that the total cost of owning a Mac is materially less than owning a PC.

“It’s not because the initial cost is less it is because the quality lasts longer. It costs $280 per product less to manage a Mac than a PC. The number of people it takes to support a PC vs Mac is dramatically different at seven or eight to one. The Mac is inherently more intuitive, it works like the mind works. Instead of a PC, which, you know…” he grimaced and shrugged comically, provoking more chimes of laughter from the bemused students.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years