Bloomberg Television today published an interview between Apple CEO Tim Cook and David Rubenstein, one of three billionaire founders of private equity firm Carlyle Group. The conversation took place at Cook’s alma mater Duke University.
Cook reflected on a wide range of topics, including his education and career path, relationship with the late Steve Jobs, the Apple Watch’s life-saving capabilities, politics, and social issues such as privacy, immigration, and equality.
On the subject of Apple’s earnings:
Rubenstein: You’ve now been the CEO of Apple since about July of 2011. The earnings are up about 80 percent. So, have you ever thought you can’t do better than this, and maybe you should just say, “well, I’ve done a great job, and now I’m going to do something else with my life?”
Cook: We view the stock price and revenue and profits as a result of doing things right on the innovation side, on the creativity side, focusing on the right products, treating customers like they’re jewels, and focusing on the user experience. I didn’t even know the numbers that you just quoted. It’s not even in my orbit, to be honest with you.”Rubenstein: When you announce your quarterly earnings, analysts always say, “well they didn’t sell as much of this product as we thought they would,” and so does that bother you?
Cook: It did at one time. It doesn’t anymore. We run Apple for the long term. It’s always struck me as bizarre that there’s a fixation on how many units are sold in a 90-day period. We’re making decisions that are multi-year kinds of decisions. We make it very clear that we don’t want to run the company for people who want to make a quick back. We run the company for the long term.
Cook’s view on billionaire investor Warren Buffett recently purchasing an additional 75 million shares in Apple:
Rubenstein: One of the shareholders who recently surfaced as having bought an additional 75 million shares is Warren Buffett. Are you pleased to have him as your shareholder?
Cook: I’m overjoyed. I’m thrilled. Warren is focused on the long term, so we’re in sync. It’s the way we run the company. It’s the way he invests. So, yeah, I could not be happier.
On the subject of Apple Park:
Cook: Steve had the vision that the workplace should facilitate people working together… having these common areas that people could work together and run into each other without planning on doing it… and that the level of ideas and creativity and innovation that would come out of that would be phenomenal. And we’re seeing that.
Rubenstein: You’re convinced standing up working is better than sitting down?
Cook: We have given all of our employees, 100 percent, standing desks. If you can stand for a while and then sit, and so on and so forth, this is much better for your lifestyle.
Cook reflecting on leaving Compaq to work at Apple:
Rubenstein: You were at Compaq, which at the time I think was one of the biggest manufacturers of personal computers… you’re there for about six months, and you get a call from Steve Jobs, or somebody working for him, asking you to come join Apple. Apple was modest compared to Compaq, so why did you take the interview, and why did you join Apple?
Cook: It’s a good question. Steve had come back to the company and was essentially replacing the executive team that was there at the time. I thought, you know, this is an opportunity to talk to the guy who started the whole industry. Steve met me on Saturday. It was just minutes into talking to him… I want to do it. I totally shocked myself. There was a sparkle in his eyes that I’ve never seen in a CEO before. He was sort of turning left when everyone was turning right. On almost everything he talked about, he was doing something extraordinarily different than conventional wisdom. Many people were abandoning the consumer market because it was a blood bath. Steve was doing the exact opposite. He was doubling down on the consumer at the time everyone else, the conventional wisdom said “go put your money in storage and servers.” Talking with him, and the type of questions he asked, were also different. I did, literally before I left, was thinking “I hope he offers me a job, because I really want to do this.”
On the subject of succeeding Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple:
Rubenstein: Steve’s health was such that he couldn’t continue to be CEO. He told the board that. And you were announced as the new CEO, I think around July of 2011. When you became the CEO, do you feel that Steve would say, here’s what I was interested in doing, and you fulfill my goals, or do you feel you had your own view on what you should do, and how did you balance the two? You’re succeeding a legendary figure…
Cook: It’s not so sequential as that. We have a really open company, so most of us could finish the other person’s sentences, even when we might disagree with them. So, it wasn’t a matter of Steve having a secret file or anything. He was always sharing his ideas — all the time. So, it was very different than that. Honestly, my view at that time was that he would be Chairman and would do that forever, and we would sort of figure out the relationship change there. That’s what I thought. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.
On the iPhone:
Rubenstein: You have a product that is the most successful consumer product in the history of mankind — which is the iPhone.
Cook: There was a sense that it was a profound product… that it was a game changer. If you go back and watch the keynote that Steve announced it, you can feel his passion in it, and the way he described it. I still remember it like it was yesterday.
On the Apple Watch and its life-saving capabilities:
Rubenstein: So, how are they doing?
Cook: They’re doing fantastic. Cellular is now on the watch. You don’t have to travel with your iPhone… you can just use your watch. One of my best moments of the day is to go through my emails that are from users. I get so many each week from people that found out they have a heart problem from their watch. It’s alerting you if you’ve been sitting and your heart rate has climbed to a level that doesn’t make sense relative to the activity you’ve been doing.
Rubenstein: I suppose you don’t want to know if you have a heart problem.
Cook: Well, we think most people do, because then you can go get help. Seriously though, David, so many people have written and said, “the watch alerted me to the problem, I took action and went to the cardiologist, and he told me, if I had not gone there, I wouldn’t be alive.”
On the topics of privacy and equality:
Rubenstein: Let’s talk about some of the values that you’ve been espousing. One is privacy.
Cook: We see privacy a fundamental human right. So, to us, it’s right up there with some of the other civil liberties that make Americans what they are… defines us as Americans. We see that this is becoming a larger and larger issue for people. Our tact on this is we take a minimum amount of data from customers… only that which we need to provide a great service. Then, we work really hard to protect it with encryption and so forth.
Rubenstein: You’ve also talked about the importance of equality. Why is that so important to you?
Cook: Many of the problems of the world come down to the lack of equality. It’s the fact that it’s the kid who is born in one ZIP code doesn’t have a good education because he happens to be born in that ZIP code. It’s someone who is maybe in the LGBT community who is fired because of that. It’s someone who has a different religion than the majority and are therefore ostracized in some way. If one day you could wave a wand and everybody would treat each other with dignity and respect, there are many, many problems that would go away with that.
Cook on why he publicly revealed he is gay:
Rubenstein: You exposed your own personal life a bit. The privacy that you said other people should have. You kind of gave up some of your privacy. Why did you do that?
Cook: I did it for a greater purpose. I realized there were a lot of kids out there that were not being treated very well—including in their own families. Kids need someone to say “oh, they did okay in life, and they’re gay, so it must not be a life sentence in some kind of way.” We’re getting these notes… it would tug on my heart even more, and it got to the point, and it got to the point where I thought, I’m making the wrong call, by trying to do something that is comfortable for me, which is to stay private. I needed to do something for the greater good.
Cook’s recent meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump:
Rubenstein: Now, you’re obviously in the public eye. Recently you had a meeting with President Trump. What was that like?
Cook: I talked about trade, and the importance of trade, and how I felt that two countries trading together make the pie larger. It’s true, I think undoubtedly true, that not everyone has been advantaged from that in either country, and we’ve got to work on that. I felt that tariffs were not the right approach there, and I showed him some more analytical kind of things to demonstrate why. We also talked about immigration, and the importance of fixing the Dreamer issue now. We’re only one court ruling away from a catastrophic case there.
On the subject of how Apple plans to use its cash holdings:
Rubenstein: Apple has roughly $260 billion in cash, more or less. What do you plan to do with that cash?
Cook: We’re going to create a new site, a new campus within the United States. We’re going to hire 20,000 people. We’re going to spend $30 billion in capital expenditure over the next several years. Number one, we’re investing, and investing a ton, in this country. We’re also going to buy some of our stock, as we view our stock as a good value.
Cook’s response to ever considering running for President of the United States:
Rubenstein: You’re obviously a public figure. You weren’t before. Have you ever thought that maybe you could run for President of the United States?
Cook: I’m not political. I love focusing on the policy stuff, but in the dysfunction kind of in Washington, between the legislative branch and so forth, I think I can make a bigger difference in the world doing what I’m doing. I appreciate the comment. You know, it’s something that you’d love to be President, but not ever run. That should never happen in our country, so that kind of eliminates me.
The full interview will air on The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations, which explores successful leadership.
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