Tim Cook: Doing what’s right

Like millions of other people around the world, I cheered Tim Cook’s comments in response to a question from the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) at last Friday’s Apple shareholder meeting. The organization asked Cook to commit to only those things that were profitable—Cook refused, saying that Apple made decisions for a variety of reasons.

You would think that would be the end of the situation—sadly, it wasn’t. I don’t feel the need to defend Tim Cook, but I do feel it’s necessary to clarify some of the things that are being said after the shareholder meeting.

The NCPPR is known to be “climate change deniers.” There is nothing wrong with that—people and organizations are free to express their views and buy stock in companies. Having said that, it is interesting to read Greenpeace’s description of the NCPPR:

…it’s worth noting exactly who the NCPPR is, since the vanilla-sounding name doesn’t offer much. The NCPPR is a front group for fossil fuel companies that has spent decades seeding lies to create doubt about the reality of global warming. It received $445,000 in funding from Exxon Mobil from 1998 to 2008. More recently, the front group has marched in lockstep with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate bill mill that has produced model state legislation for discriminatory voter ID laws, Stand Your Ground gun laws, and attacks on clean energy.

I honestly don’t care about the NCPPR’s views one way or the other. However, they seem to have taken Cook’s comments, twisted them around, and ran with them to suit their needs—that’s dishonest. The truth is a bit different—that’s what I want to address here.

After the shareholder meeting, Justin Danhof, director of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project, published the following statement:

“Although the National Center’s proposal did not receive the required votes to pass, millions of Apple shareholders now know that the company is involved with organizations that don’t appear to have the best interest of Apple’s investors in mind,” said Danhof. “Too often investors look at short-term returns and are unaware of corporate policy decisions that may affect long-term financial prospects. After today’s meeting, investors can be certain that Apple is wasting untold amounts of shareholder money to combat so-called climate change. The only remaining question is: how much?”

Here is what Tim Cook actually said during the shareholder meeting when the NCPPR asked him to commit to only pursuing profitable projects:

“No, I wouldn’t be willing to say that because we do things for other reasons than profit motives. We do things because they are right and just and that is who we are. That’s who we are as a company. I don’t…when I think about human rights, I don’t think about an ROI. When I think about making our products accessible for the people that can’t see or to help a kid with autism, I don’t think about a bloody ROI, and by the same token, I don’t think about helping our environment from an ROI point of view. It’s not how I look at it. My simple point was if you did only look at it in that way for the Maiden data center, the same decisions would have been made and so there are cases where you can see these two spheres connecting but I’m not going to say that that’s all I’m going to do by any means. I don’t look at it that way. Just to be very straightforward with you, if that’s a hard line for you, if you only want me to make things, make decisions that have a clear ROI, then you should get out of the stock just to be plain and simple.”


Thank you. I think it’s so important to remember that the Apple brand stands for something and you can’t take each piece of it and say, “This has a 20% ROI and this has a 15, and you shouldn’t have given this $100 million to education,” and all this kind of stuff. That’s not the way we look at it. It’s not who we are as people.

Danhof would have you believe that Apple is involved in some kind of conspiracy, but as you can see from the comments, Cook was addressing more than Apple’s moves to improve the environment1.

Apple is addressing worker safety in its factories, accessibility options for those in society that can benefit from those features, and yes, improving the environment from toxic chemicals.

Cook isn’t saying that anyone with a different view on climate change should abandon Apple’s stock2—that’s just Danhof’s twisted way of portraying the situation to add fuel to his fire. Cook is merely defending the principles that make Apple a great company. That is the reason most people invested in Apple in the first place.

I applaud Tim Cook for defending the products Apple makes that help the blind, or the autistic children, and the environment. Maybe the ROI isn’t as great on those items, I honestly don’t know, but Apple is a better company for recognizing those issues and addressing them where they can.

Doing what’s right isn’t always the easiest decision to make, but it is always the best one.

  1. Also interesting to note that Tim Cook never once mentioned climate change. 

  2. I have known people at Apple for the last 20 years and never have I heard of a situation where someone with a different lifestyle or views was looked down upon. 

  • Curmudgeon

    There is simply no “profit” in Apple’s Genius Bar, or in its One to One training memberships. How can you quantify a ROI for letting senior citizens pay $100 to come in as often as they want for an entire year to learn their devices and apps with a personal teacher?

    • EVula

      Yeah, I feel like that’s an excellent example of a can’t-be-quantified benefit of Apple’s structure: sure, they might not get a direct return on the cost of the Genius Bar, but how do you measure the impact that a positive experience has? Perhaps that person will now be a bit more likely to spend money on future devices; perhaps they’ll be that personal recommendation that makes someone else buy their first Apple device.

      Apple doesn’t sweat the bottom line like that. Yes, that’s one of the benefits of having a titanic amount of cash sitting around, but it’s also not in their nature to demand that sort of short-sighted ROI. Hell, that’s why John Browett got booted from Apple: he tried to put ROI over building the actual atmosphere.

    • Samm

      My mother started with a MacBook and the training classes, she is now an iPhone user, on her 2nd iPad, and looking a new laptop.

      All of that because she is a huge fan of being able to walk into her local Apple Store, and take a class, get help, etc. Apparently most of the staff now knows her, as well as some of the people she has met whom are also regulars at the classes

      I would say having those options in the store is a great ROI

  • David Olson

    Tim Cook was right on in his reply. As a father with autistic and other special needs kids, I am glad Apple does not make ROI it central principle. There are bigger values in life than maximizing your dollars. As a shareholder, my problem isn’t with Apple, Inc. but Wall Street that misses the obvious values Tim Cook and other executives bring, both financially and morally.

  • krabbie

    the Street is only intreresed in rockets and not steady, improving, innovating companies that are only ready to SHIP when the product is FINE. Rockets fizzle and fade, steady is slooooooow growing but STEADY. the difference is that Wall Street knows when to JUMP off the rocket and the rest of us get screwweeeeeed. that is why WS hates Apple.

  • Moeskido

    I’ve commented on this elsewhere, to the effect that the NCPPR probably knew exactly what sort of reaction it would receive from Cook, but that it didn’t matter. The point was to generate negative press and possibly drive fundraising.

    Which makes it interesting to see what Greenpeace has to say about this advocacy group, insofar as Greenpeace itself did largely the same thing years ago when it released a “report” that castigated Apple for its poor environmental record, listing it below other computer manufacturers who had promised to do more, but in fact were creating far greater amounts of environmental toxicity.

    Greenpeace used Apple to generate negative press and publicize its own fundraising. I’m grateful for their identification of NCPPR’s funding sources, but I’m inclined to check their facts.

  • matthewmaurice

    The NCPPR are just right-wing whack jobs. Look at the bottom of their press release.

    “In 2013, Free Enterprise Project representatives attended 33 shareholder meetings advancing free-market ideals in the areas of health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, media bias, gun rights and many more important public policy issues.”

    What do “free-market ideals” have to do with “religious freedom” and “gun rights”? It’s just coded language for the Tea-baggers and Wing Nuts. Which is fine, everyone is entitled to their political beliefs, but don’t try to hide your political activism behind fiduciary responsibility.

  • Winski

    Leaving Danhof and his ‘peeps’ at the end of an abandoned runway in a blinding snow storm has an ROI of 1000%. So let’s ALL pursue that goal with glee as we let Tim and his crew do the things they do so well. Tim’s view of Apple’s role in our lives is a big part of what will sustain Apple as a rich, growing, healthy powerhouse for a long time.

    Thanks Tim, just keep doing what you’re doing.

  • Lukas

    “The NCPPR is known to be “climate change deniers.” There is nothing wrong with that”

    Depends on your definition of “wrong”. If you mean that it is not illegal, and should not be illegal, then yes, there’s nothing wrong with that. If, however, you mean that it is not morally wrong, then I think I differ. This group is lying to people, and it’s lie that has far-reaching consequences for all of us. I definitely qualify this as morally wrong.

  • Did anyone else hear Tim Cook’s response as, “You might think that’s the right thing to do, but that’s because you’re a sociopath. Frankly, I don’t even want to be in the same room as you”?

    • I did, because it’s true. Jim is being very diplomatic in this article, but the fact is that the NCPPR is comprised of mercenary ideologues financed by psychopaths.

  • ninderad

    “The NCPPR is known to be “climate change deniers.” There is nothing wrong with that” I suggest that the NCPPR peoples ( Justin Danhof, director of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project and company) use the sponsor money (Exxon -$445.000) to go to the BRIC and far east countries to teach their philosopy there before it’s to late rather than wasting time falsifying facts about APPLE and acting like Robin Hood. LOL

  • Chris987

    Thank you Jim for posting this. I had many of the same thoughts yesterday… Cook never said anything about Global Warming and he certainly didn’t say, as has been reported all over the Right-leaning web, that Cook said “Climate Deniers should not buy AAPL.” I’m one of those evil right-wingers myself, and I also think Global Warming is a load of horse crap masquerading as a cause (maybe we’re warming, though none in 15 yrs, I think the Sun has orders of magnitude more to do with it than anything Man is doing), but I also love AAPL and think this whole NCPPR thing is stupid. Cook may well buy into the GW hypothesis, and that is fine. The reasons given for non ROI investment are sound regardless whether the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming is accurate. It just happens to be really smart business sense to use some of your massive cash pile to make all your data centers and corporate HQ effectively energy independent and impervious to energy price shocks or natural catastrophes. I doubt GW is the sole reason AAPL has done any of its environmental initiatives. Smaller packaging? Yes it reduces carbon-dioxide footprint of shipping, but also reduces per unit shipping costs, for example.

  • The NCPPR’s press release ends with this bit of irony:

    “Contributions are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated.”

    • Moeskido

      No irony there. That’s half of the reasons for their little stunt.