Steve Jobs may well have been the best CEO speech maker ever. (Check out Carmine Gallo’s book for an excellent analysis of the reasons why). So imagine the pressure on the guy who came after him to perform well at the podium. That guy, of course, is Tim Cook, who took over as Apple CEO in 2011. In the next couple of posts, I’ll take a look at how Cook is doing.
Cook has clearly decided to make corporate social responsibility a much higher priority for Apple than it was in the past. He has done a wonderful job of highlighting that new commitment through the power of… a story. At a speech in December accepting an award from his alma mater Auburn University, he told the audience about a day growing up in his small Alabama home town. He was a kid, cycling home on a new 10-speed, when he passed a huge cross, burning in front of a house that belonged to a black family. Klansmen circled the cross chanting racial slurs. Cook heard glass break; He yelled, “Stop!”
One of the men lifted his hood — it was a deacon Cook recognized from a local church. Startled, Cook pedaled away.
“This image was permanently imprinted in my brain, and it would change my life forever,” Cook said. ‘For me, the cross burning was a symbol of ignorance, of hatred and a fear of anyone different than the majority.”
That is simply one of the best uses of a story by a CEO ever — it’s personal, it has drama, it’s linked to America’s historic struggle for racial justice. I guarantee no one in that audience, or anyone who has watched the video, will ever forget that day in Cook’s life.
And of course, after telling the story, Cook drew a direct connection Apple’s commitment to social responsibility. He said the cross burning convinced him no matter what you do in life, human rights and dignity are values that must be acted upon. And the conclusion: Cook’s Apple is a company that believes deeply in “advancing humanity.”