Apple CEO Tim Cook traveled to Duke’s Fuqua Business School for his 25th reunion in late April. While he was there, he sat down for an hour-long Q&A with Bill Boulding, the school’s dean. This week, Duke released seven clips of his talk — providing a candid look at Cook’s influences (MLK and Bobby Kennedy), his advice on career planning (be flexible), and when you should follow the rules (rarely).
Most notable among those clips is Cook’s candid discussion of what qualities he looks for in people to make sure they can collaborate effectively at Apple.
Boulding: What qualities do you look for in terms of what you think will produce effective collaboration? And what’s your role as CEO in fostering that kind of collaboration?
Cook: You look for people that are not political. People that are not bureaucrats. People that really don’t care who gets credit. People that can privately celebrate the achievement, but not care if their name is the one in the lights. There are greater reasons to do things.
You look for wicked smart people. You look for people who appreciate different points of view. You look for people that care enough that they have an idea at 11 at night and they want to call and talk to you about it. Because they’re so excited about it, they want to push the idea further. And that they believe that somebody can help them push the idea another step instead of them doing everything themselves.
I’ve never met anyone, at least in my life, maybe they exist, that could do something so incredible by themselves in companies with global footprints. In our world, in Apple’s world, the reason Apple is special is that we focus on hardware, software, and services. And the magic happens where those three come together.
And so, it’s unlikely that somebody that’s focused on one of those in and of themselves can come up with magic and so you want people collaborating in such a way so you can produce these things that can’t be produced otherwise. And you want people to believe in that.
That quote, which we spotted via Business Insider, provides more color with regard to remarks Cook made in Businessweek last December following the ouster of Apple executives Scott Forstall and John Browett.
Here are some choice quotes from the other video snippets:
On ethical leadership: “When I think of ethics, I think of leaving things better than you found them. And to me, that goes to everything from environmentally, to how you work with suppliers with labor questions, to your carbon footprint of your products, to the things you choose to support, to the way you treat your employees.”
On intuition: “I don’t think you’re born with a gut. I think the gut matures and gets better and better over time, and the struggle most people have, I think, is learning to listen to it, and figuring out how to access it in some way.”
“For me, though, what I found was that even though I’m an engineer and an analytical person at heart, the most important decisions I’ve made had nothing to do with any of that.”
On the leaders who inspire him: “I have 3 photos in my office. Two are of [Robert F.] Kennedy, and one is [Rev. Dr. Martin Luther] King [Jr.], that’s the only photos I have in my office. I look at them every day. I think they’re incredible role models for all of us.”
On breaking the rules: “I think you should rarely follow the rules. I think you should write the rules. I think if you do follow things in a formulaic manner, you will wind up at best being the same as everybody else, maybe you miss something and you’re a little worse. If you want to excel, you can’t do that.”
On career planning: “For me, the journey was not predictable at all….the only thing I believe you can do is prepare.”
On his three focuses at Apple: “I spend almost all of my time on people, strategy and execution. And I think that most everything else falls from those.”
Cook recently defended Apple’s tax practices to a Senate committee, and appeared this past week at the D11 conference. He is now gearing up for Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote on June 10.