Tim Cook Reflects On His Role Models Growing Up In The South

tim cook interviw with fuqua

The Atlantic recently called Apple CEO Tim Cook “the grownup boss” the tech giant never had. According to Rebecca Greenfield’s March article, Cook is not only nicer than the late Steve Jobs, but a better listener, more likely to speak to speak to press and investors than his predecessor. One of those talks occurred at Cook’s 25th class reunion of his alma mater, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. In a recording of his interview with Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding, Cook told a packed auditorium of students and alumni to follow the advice of Abraham Lincoln: “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.”

But Lincoln wasn’t the only historical figure Cook cited. Cook spoke of his admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and how their veracity in the face of danger struck a chord with him as he grew up in the South.

Over the course of growing up, some of the worst behavior in terms of discrimination that literally would make me sick,” Cook explained. “And I always felt that Kennedy — 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.”

Cook’s admires the pair so much, in fact, that the only two photos in his office depict King and Kennedy.

I look at them every day and I… think they’re incredible role models for all of us — incredible role models,” he said. “And that’s not a political statement, that’s just a statement about treating people fairly, and so forth.”

Cook also described how he refined his intuition over the years, leading him to leave successful Compaq in 1998 to work with then-failing Apple. He told Fuqua students they should also follow their guts. “You should rarely follow the rules,” he said. “What Fuqua teaches you so well is how to learn and how to collaborate. Write your own rules.”