Tim Cook visited his alma mater, the Fuqua School of Business, this week and Bloomberg has published a number of separate videos filmed at the event where Cook revealed why he decided to take the job at Apple in 1998, what ethics means to him, what to look for in people, writing your own rules, and who his biggest inspiration has been.
On intuition and following gut instinct
"I don't think that you're born with gut [instinct], a gut matures and gets better and better over time, the struggle that most people have is learning to listen to it. Figuring out how to access it in some way. What I found is that even thought I'm an engineer and an analytical person at heart the most important decisions I've made had nothing to do with any of that. They were always based on intuition. The Apple one [choosing to leave Compaq to take the job at Apple in 1998] is a prime example of that. I remember forming my list of plusses and minuses and I could not get the chart to work out the way I wanted it to. Because I wanted something to say this says I should go to Apple. But it would not. Nothing financially would do that, I talked to people I trusted, that knew me, and they said: 'This is not what you should do'. It wasn't so easy. People said, you're just crazy, you're working for the top PC company in the world, how could you even think of doing it, you've lost your mind. And yet that voice said, 'Go West young man, Go West'. And some times you just have to go for it".
On ethics and leaving things better than you found them
"I think the [ethical] compass comes from parents and those you surround yourself with – a collective group of people that influence you the most. So it's largely the effect of others that have influenced me over the years. In terms of ethics, many people in business think that ethics is to do with accounting fraud and insider trading, the group of companies that did some bad things. This is not what I think of. When I think of ethics I think of leaving things better than you found them. To me that goes from everything from environmentally, to how you work with suppliers, with labour questions, to your carbon footprint of your products, to the things you choose to support, to the way you treat your employees. Your whole façade, to me, fits under that umbrella. The simple way to think about it to me is leaving things better than you found them. It's what we try to do at Apple and it's the way I try to live my life."
On finding the best people and getting them to collaborate
"Look for people that are not political. People that are not bureaucrats. People that really don't care who gets credit. People that can privately celebrate the achievement but not care if their name is the one in the lights. There are greater reasons to do things. You look for smart people. You look for people who appreciate different points of view. You look for people who care enough, that they have an idea at 11 at night and they want to call and talk about it because they are so excited about it that they want to push the idea forward, and they believe that somebody can help them push the idea another step instead of them doing everything themselves. I've never met anyone that could do something so incredible by themselves, in companies with global footprints, and in Apple's world what is special is that we focus on hardware, software and services, and the magic happens where those thing come together. So it's unlikely that somebody that's focused on one of those things can come up with magic. So you want people collaborating in such a way that you can produce these things that can't be produced otherwise. And you want people to believe in that."
On writing your own rules and not being the same as everyone else
"I think you should rarely follow the rules. I think you should write the rules. I think if you do follow things in a formulaic manner you will wind up at best being the same as everybody else. If you want to excel you can't do that. I've watched a lot of companies do that and I think it's the wrong thing."
On focus: people, strategy and execution
I spend almost all of my time on people, strategy, and execution. And I think that most everything else falls from those. If you have the most brilliant people. There are still things that arise, but if you get those three right then the world is a great place.
On making a 25-year plan and having a North Star
Having made a 25-year plan 25 years ago that was "reasonably accurate for all of 18 months and beyond that there was not a single thing that was accurate" Cook said: "I think that the lesson there is the journey was not predictable at all. It goes back to the Lincoln quote: The only thing I believe you can do is prepare. The world is going to change many times, and the environment is going to change many times. The companies you work for are going to ebb and flow. You may wind up in the same company, you may not. You may wind up in the same career, you may not. You may wind up with the spouse you are married to now, you may not. There are lots of things that change. You sort of have to have a North Star and stay with the North Star and let those things go on about you and sort of find your journey."
On inspiration and dying for a cause
"I was born in the South and I saw growing up some of the worst behaviour in terms of discrimination that literally would make me sick. And I always felt that Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King did an incredible amount for the whole of the world. They didn't solve it because it's not solved today but they moved things forward in a major way. Not just for people in the United States but for people all over the world and they knowingly risked their lives for, that it meant that much to them, and both of them. If I'd have had the privilege of talking to them the day before they died - it's not that it snuck up on them and they weren't aware that there were nuts out there that would want to take them out, but they kept on anyway. And that is just so incredibly impressive to me that someone would care that much to do it. So that's why I have three photos in my office: two are of Kennedy and one is of King. These are the only photos I have in my office. I look at them every day. I think they are incredible role models for all of us. That's not a political statement, that's a statement about treating people fairly."