Timothy D. Cook was born in Robertsdale, Alabama, on November 1, 1960. He was the middle child of three sons born to father Donald, a shipyard worker, and mother Geraldine, a homemaker.
Cook earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Auburn University in 1982 and a Master of Business Administration degree from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in 1988. After Duke, he took a position at IBM, rising to become its North American fulfillment director, managing manufacturing and distribution functions for IBM’s Personal Computer Co. in North and Latin America. In 1994 Cook moved to the Reseller Division at Intelligent Electronics as its chief operating officer. Three years later he became vice president of corporate materials at Compaq Computer Corp., where he lasted six months before taking a job with Apple Inc. in 1998. “My most significant discovery so far in my life was the result of one single decision: My decision to join Apple,” Cook said in 2010 at his alma mater Auburn University’s commencement ceremony.
Cook joined Apple as a vice president when it had fallen on hard times. Profits were sliding in the era before the company unveiled the iMac, iPod, iPhone or iPad. But less than a year after Cook began at Apple, the company became profitable again. Cook became executive vice president and then chief operating officer, and in August 2011, CEO. (Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who had been CEO, died of cancer in October 2011.) Cook continues to serve as Apple’s CEO to this day.
In late 2011, Forbes magazine named Cook one of the “World’s Most Powerful People.” He was the best-paid CEO among large publicly traded companies in 2012, the New York Times reported at the time. Although his salary was about $900,000, Cook took in $378 million in total compensation from stock awards and bonuses. In 2015, he said that after covering his nephew’s college education, he planned to give the balance of his wealth to philanthropy. By 2018, Apple had become the first U.S. publicly traded company to achieve a value of $1 trillion, and Cook was slated to receive about $120 million in stock as a bonus.
With Cook at the helm, Apple came under legal scrutiny in 2013 for its practice of storing wealth overseas. That May, Cook testified before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which had recently completed a probe into how Apple avoided paying tens of billions of tax dollars by shifting its profits into Irish subsidiaries that the subcommittee’s chairman described as “ghost companies.” Denying that Apple was trying to circumvent U.S. tax laws, Cook asserted that his company was paying an effective tax rate that was among the highest of any major corporation: “We pay all the taxes we owe, every single dollar. We do not depend on tax gimmicks…. We do not stash money on some Caribbean island.”
Cook’s public statements were undermined, however, when in 2017 the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung leaked the so-called “Paradise Papers” — a set of more than 13.4 million confidential electronic documents pertaining to offshore investments — which showed that Apple had arranged a sweetheart deal with the Republic of Ireland that allowed the company to pay a miniscule tax rate, sometimes as low as 0.005 percent, on its Irish assets.
Following the revelation about Apple’s Irish holdings, the company transferred its offshore assets to the Channel Islands, a British tax haven. The European Union later ordered Apple to fork over approximately $14.5 billion in unpaid taxes. To deal with the adverse publicity that resulted from these events, Apple released a statement saying: “Apple believes every company has a responsibility to pay its taxes, and as the largest taxpayer in the world, Apple pays every dollar it owes in every country around the world.” At the end of 2017, the company was sued repeatedly after acknowledging that it was deliberately slowing the performance of older iPhones (in an effort to motivate people to buy newer models).
In May 2014, Apple made its largest acquisition to date when it purchased Beats Music and Beats Electronics for $3 billion. A month later Cook unveiled OSX Yosemite, the newest version of the Apple operating system for desktop and mobile devices. In September 2014 he introduced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which offered Apple Pay. The Apple Watch, which tracks fitness and health, went on the market in 2015. In 2017 the company previewed the iPhone X, which had a facial recognition system. In time for the midterm elections in 2018, the company began offering the Apple News app, a news aggregator that supplied curated content from media outlets such as the Washington Post. “For Apple News, we felt top stories should be selected by humans, not to be political at all but … to make sure you’re not picking content that strictly has the goal of enraging people,” Cook said.
In 2014, Cook wrote an opinion column for Bloomberg Businessweek in which he confirmed that he was gay, and that he was outing himself publicly to advance the cause of equality for all. He wrote: “While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.” “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others,” Cook wrote in the op-ed piece. “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”
On March 29, 2015, Cook penned an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he attacked the long-sacrosanct protections for religious freedoms included in the First Amendment:
“There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country. A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors. Some, such as the bill enacted in Indiana last week that drew a national outcry and one passed in Arkansas, say individuals can cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law.
“Others are more transparent in their effort to discriminate. Legislation being considered in Texas would strip the salaries and pensions of clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — even if the Supreme Court strikes down Texas’ marriage ban later this year. In total, there are nearly 100 bills designed to enshrine discrimination in state law.
“These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.”
Cook also increased Apple’s donations to charity, the Guardian reported in 2015. The company gave more than $40 million to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and it matched $25 million in employee financial contributions to charities.
Cook has taken positions on various other political issues as well, that place him to the left side of the political spectrum.
For example, he supports Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 executive action through which then-President Barack Obama granted temporary work authorization as well as protection from deportation to illegal aliens who had been brought to the U.S. before they were 16 years of age. “The DACA situation is one that I am truthfully, as an American, deeply offended by,” Cook said in 2018. “The DACA situation is not an immigration issue. It’s a moral issue. This is a moral issue. This is one that goes to the core of who we are as Americans. Who among us would think that it’s the right thing to do to kick somebody out of this country when they came here when they were 1, 2, 3 years old, that have only known this country as their home, that know no other country as their home? This just doesn’t make any sense.”
Cook has also embraced the feminist movement. On March 8, 2017, he tweeted, “Women’s rights are human rights. Today we celebrate, we speak up and we listen. #InternationalWomensDay[.]” Tweeting in support of International Women’s Day in 2020, Cook posted a 40-second video with a Beyonce audio track featuring famous women such as Gloria Steinem and Lady Gaga alongside Apple computers. The tweet read: “To the scientists, the musicians, the athletes, the mothers, the entrepreneurs, the artists, the engineers, the teachers — the women of all generations who drive us forward and show girls everywhere that the future is limitless: We celebrate you.”
On December 3, 2018, Cook made a speech to the Anti-Defamation League, in which he made clear his plan to censor conservative voices on the pretext that they foment misinformation, violence, hatred, division, and white supremacy. Exhorting his listeners “not to be bystanders as hate tries to make its headquarters in the digital world,” Cook said: “We [at Apple] only have one message for those who seek to push hate, division and violence: You have no place on our platforms. You have no home here. From the earliest days of iTunes to Apple Music today, we have always prohibited music with a message of white supremacy. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. And as we showed this year, we won’t give a platform to violent conspiracy theorists on the App Store. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.” Cook added that the duty to “be clear on moral questions like these” should inspire Americans “to speak up for immigrants and for those who seek opportunity in the United States.”
After the highly publicized death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Cook became a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) the month after, Cook said that he understood not only the pain being experienced across America, “especially in our black and brown communities after the senseless killing of George Floyd,” but also the motivations underlying the BLM protests that had swept the country. Asserting that Floyd’s death and the public reaction to it had caused Americans to “face longstanding institutional inequalities and social injustices,” Cook stated: “This country was founded on the principles of freedom and equality for all. For too many people, and for too long, we haven’t lived up to those ideas. This means taking action.”
In 2020 as well, Cook published a statement titled “Speaking Up On Racism,” on the Apple website, where he said:
“Right now, there is a pain deeply etched in the soul of our nation and in the hearts of millions. To stand together, we must stand up for one another, and recognize the fear, hurt, and outrage rightly provoked by the senseless killing of George Floyd and a much longer history of racism.
“That painful past is still present today — not only in the form of violence, but in the everyday experience of deeply rooted discrimination. We see it in our criminal justice system, in the disproportionate toll of disease on Black and Brown communities, in the inequalities in neighborhood services and the educations our children receive.
“While our laws have changed, the reality is that their protections are still not universally applied. We’ve seen progress since the America I grew up in, but it is similarly true that communities of color continue to endure discrimination and trauma.
“I have heard from so many that you feel afraid — afraid in your communities, afraid in your daily lives, and, most cruelly of all, afraid in your own skin. We can have no society worth celebrating unless we can guarantee freedom from fear for every person who gives this country their love, labor, and life.
“At Apple, our mission has been and always will be to create technology that empowers people to change the world for the better. We’ve always drawn strength from diversity, welcomed people from every walk of life to our stores around the world, and strived to build an Apple that is inclusive of everyone.
“But we must do more. We commit to continuing our work to bring critical resources and technology to underserved school systems. We commit to continuing to fight the forces of environmental injustice — like climate change — which disproportionately harm Black communities and other communities of color. We commit to looking inward and pushing progress forward on inclusion and diversity, so that every great idea can be heard. And we’re donating to organizations including the Equal Justice Initiative, which challenge racial injustice and mass incarceration.
“To create change, we have to reexamine our own views and actions in light of a pain that is deeply felt but too often ignored. Issues of human dignity will not abide standing on the sidelines. To the Black community — we see you. You matter and your lives matter.”
On June 11, 2020, Apple vowed to spend $100 million to challenge what Cook described as “systemic barriers that limit opportunity for communities of color in the critical areas of education, economic equality, and criminal justice.” The company also announced that it would increase spending on black-owner partner enterprises and improve the representation of minorities in its supply chain.
In a January 2021 interview with Fox News, Cook was asked to comment on Apple’s recent decision to suspend the social media platform Parler, which was a competitor to Facebook and Twitter, from its App Store. Because the suspension occurred shortly after a January 6 incident where several hundred people had swarmed into the Capitol building in Washington, ostensibly to protest what they viewed as an illegitimate presidential election in which Joe Biden had defeated Donald Trump, Cook’s implication was that Parler had been used by Trump supporters to organize and promote that event. Said Cook: “We looked at the incitement of violence that was on there. We don’t consider that free speech and incitement to violence has an intersection.” Notably, Cook did not provide any examples of the purported incitement to violence to be found on Parler, nor was he asked why Apple’s App Store had not suspended either Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube when, throughout the spring and summer of 2020, so many Black Lives Matter supporters were clearly glorifying and inciting violent riots from those platforms. Moreover, on January 12, journalist Glenn Greenwald reported that of the thirteen people who had been arrested thus far for the breach at the Capitol, “none appear to be active users of Parler.” Rather, “The Capitol breach was planned far more on Facebook and YouTube.”
In December of 2021, it was disclosed that Cook in 2016 had secretly signed an agreement worth more than $275 billion with Chinese officials, promising that Apple would help to develop China’s economy and technological capabilities. As FoxBusiness.com explained:
“The agreement included a commitment from Apple to help boost China’s economy through investments and other business initiatives, The Information reported, citing interviews and internal documents. At the time, officials in Beijing purportedly felt Apple was not doing enough to aid the country’s economic development.
“The deal was completed as Apple faced a potential regulatory crackdown that could have harmed its business in China, including key services such as Apple Pay and iCloud. Cook was personally involved in negotiations and made several trips to China to lobby government officials on Apple’s behalf.
“Apple received legal exemptions from regulatory action. In exchange, Apple agreed to a host of investments, including worker training, commitments to help Chinese manufacturers develop ‘the most advanced manufacturing technologies’ and use Chinese-made components and other concessions meant to appease local authorities.”
In a June 16, 2022 video interview that was posted on the YouTube site of China Daily — a media entity owned by the Communist government of China — praised the 5 million Chinese software and application developers who constituted fully one-sixth of Apple’s 30 million registered app engineers around the world. Asserting that “there is no question that China has one of the most vibrant developer communities in the entire world,” Cook said that his encounters with Chinese developers had left him “impressed by [their] creativity and passion for using technology to enrich people’s lives.” Emphasizing in particular the “phenomenal” success of China’s small developers who “have seen their revenues almost doubled in just over two years,” Cook added: “I can’t tell you how inspired I am by the innovation and creativity you brought to your work throughout the entire [COVID-19] pandemic. You really poured your heart and souls into delivering incredible apps that help people stay active and entertained and productive, learning and healthy.”
Republican Congressman Mike Waltz was infuriated by Cook’s effusive praise for China, particularly in light of Apple’s track record of supporting the Black Lives Matter movement while criticizing America for its many alleged faults and shortcomings. “This further underscores the hypocrisy of corporate America, which preaches social justice at home and turns a blind eye when it comes to its profits,” Waltz told the Washington Free Beacon. “It’s absolutely shameful an American CEO would sit down with a communist, genocide-denying propaganda rag like China Daily.”
Further Reading: “Tim Cook” (Biography.com).