This NYT profile of Tim Cook opens with a harrowing anecdote from the Apple CEO’s early life in 1970s Alabama:
Bicycling home on a new 10-speed, [Cook] passed a large cross in flames in front of a house — one that he knew belonged to a black family. Around the cross were Klansmen, dressed in white cloaks and hoods, chanting racial slurs. Mr. Cook heard glass break, maybe someone throwing something through a window. He yelled, “Stop!”
One of the men lifted his conical hood, and Mr. Cook recognised a deacon from a local church (not Mr. Cook’s). Startled, he pedaled away.
Reflecting on this event in December during his acceptance speech for Auburn University’s International Quality of Life Award, he said, “This image was permanently imprinted in my brain, and it would change my life forever” — human rights and dignity are “values that need to be acted upon,” and Apple is a company that believes in “advancing humanity.”
This gets at the moral motivations behind many of Cook’s decisions as Apple CEO. He wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal calling for federal protections of gay, lesbian, and transgender workers. He started a corporate program that matched Apple employee donations to charitable causes. The company’s data centres now run entirely on renewable energy.
This attitude has some investors concerned. One such investor posed a question to Cook during a February shareholder meeting regarding whether or not Apple should avoid embracing environmental causes that lacked a clear profit motive.
“We do things because they’re just and right,” Cook replied. “If you want me to make decisions that have a clear R.O.I., then you should get out of the stock, just to be plain and simple.”