When Tim Cook became Apple’s CEO in August 2011, he assumed that Steve Jobs would remain chairman for a long time. Battling pancreatic cancer, Jobs’ prognosis was uncertain.
But within six weeks, Jobs died. On hearing the news, Cook calls it “the worst day ever.”
More than five years later, Cook has come into his own as CEO of one of the world’s most visible and valuable companies. In addition to tackling the traditional role of a CEO (maintaining profitable margins, navigating global growth, etc.), Cook has embraced broader social issues.
Cook, 55, is the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to come out as gay. He views “evangelizing moving human rights forward” as part of his job.
Publicly identifying himself as gay was not an impulsive move. He planned it for about a year.
He pondered what to say, how to say it and what media vehicle to use to convey his message. “I wanted it to be in a business [publication],” he says. “That’s what I know, that’s who I am.”
He sought advice from Anderson Cooper, because he admired the TV personality’s handling of his own personal story. It fits with Cook’s penchant for seeking out outsiders (such as billionaire Warren Buffett) for input.
“That doesn’t mean I always do what they say,” he says. “But I think it’s incumbent on a CEO to not just listen to points of view but to actually solicit them.”
Like many leaders, Cook realizes that hiring the right person is more art than science. He admits that one of his biggest mistakes as CEO was selecting John Browett to run Apple’s retail stores. Browett only lasted six months before leaving Apple.
Though he has favorite phrases—many things are “deep,” and Apple’s mission is always its “North Star”—he eschews the jargon many CEOs use. And while he’s quick to trumpet Apple, he is also unassuming, quickly noting, after saying his job can be “lonely,” that “I’m not looking for any sympathy. CEOs don’t need any sympathy.”
— Adapted from “Tim Cook, the interview: Running Apple ‘is sort of a lonely job,’” Jena McGregor, washingtonpost.com.