Skip to Content

Apple CEO Tim Cook Speaks Out About Doing ‘What’s Right’ Despite the Backlash

Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday that he focuses on “what’s right” when it comes to decisions touching on privacy, human rights, and the environment even though it may not sit well with some customers and shareholders.

“I try not to get wrapped up in a pretzel about who we upset,” Cook said at the Time 100 Summit in New York City. “I think at the end of the day, and not in the thick of the moment, we’ll be judged more on what did we stand up for what we believed in…

He continued: “I think people appreciate that, even when they do disagree. We do them out of believing deeply that they’re right and we do have a unique lens. We focus on the policy, not the politics.”

Cook talked about big corporations and their place in the political process during a nearly 30-minute discussion. He also spoke about the good and bad he sees in the tech industry, and why he believes Apple’s greatest contributions to society could ultimately be in healthcare.

While his comments were often light on specifics and a bit self-serving, Cook, who took over for Steve Jobs in 2011, did shed some light on what drives him as leader of one of the world’s most powerful companies.

Here are the big takeaways:

The Role of Business in Politics

Cook said that the world’s problems cannot only be solved by government. In some cases, companies must get involved.

But Cook said it’s not Apple’s place to play a role in every political conversation. The company will, however, take a stand when it has a “legitimate position or lens on the issue,” he said, like climate change, immigration, and education.

Apple, under Cook, has faced off against President Donald Trump on topics as far-ranging as immigration, China trade policies, and other social issues. Those public rebukes have earned Apple some pushback from a President who is known for publicly attacking executives who oppose his policies. The attacks include Cook, who said last year that Trump’s proposed tariffs would hurt Apple’s overseas business.

Regulating the Tech Industry

Cook said he’s a “deeply a free-market person in mindset,” yet he strongly believes that the tech industry needs to be regulated.

“We have to be intellectually honest and admit that what we’re doing isn’t working,” said Cook. “Technology needs to be regulated. There are now too many examples where the no rails have resulted in a great damage to society.”

Although Cook didn’t cite examples, the tech industry is facing intense criticism over its sharing of vast troves of customer information, as well as concerns that it’s not doing enough to secure services from bad actors looking to steal sensitive personal information.

Still, Cook cautioned that the chances of actually getting effective regulation on topics ranging from privacy to tech industry business practices may be difficult. Cook said that the U.S. business climate is one that “thinks all regulation is bad regulation, and that’s a very difficult tide to work through.”

The Importance of Coding

For years, Apple has argued that everyone should know how to code so they can build apps or programs. Cook echoed that by saying that that coding is “a core skill that kids need to have” because it lets children express themselves creatively, while still providing a foundation of mathematics and logic. And he thinks the software children create could allow them to ignite passion in the arts.

“I think every kid in the world should learn to code because I think it’s the most important second language you can learn,” Cook said. “It’s the only global language.”

Apple, the Healthcare Giant

Over the last several years, Apple has been moving into healthcare with health-tracking features in its Apple Watch and a partnership with Stanford University on a study involving human hearts.

But it’s only the beginning, Cook said.

Without discussing specifics, Cook said that Apple is currently “working on a bunch more things” to help people track their health. And over time, he believes Apple can “make significant contributions to health care.”

The tech giant may be a hardware and services company today, Cook said, but all of that could pale in comparison to what it will do in the future.

“I do think there will be the day that we will look back and say that Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind was in health care,” Cook said.