It may be 20 years later, but Apple CEO Tim Cook still remembers when Apple was close to death and then Dell-CEO Michael Dell said that he’d shut the company down.
He recalled the quote while explaining how he decided to join Apple and his career path as part of a talk at Oxford on Wednesday.
“One day, out of the blue, Steve [Jobs] has come back to Apple, and essentially fired everybody, that was working for him at that time,” Cook said, “He began to recruit. I had never met Steve before.”
It was a difficult choice for Cook, who was a rising star at PC maker Compaq at the time.
“Actually, the people that I respected the most that knew me, some that knew the situation at Apple at least on a cursory basis, 100% said ‘you should not do this. You would be leaving the #1 PC company in the world, that has a great future, and you would be going to a company that’s going out of business,'” Cook said.
“In fact, Michael Dell had just said that if he were the CEO of Apple, he would close it down and give any remaining money to the shareholders. Because it was clear that the book had been written, the last chapter had been written, it was just a matter of the chapters in between,” he continued.
But there was a feeling inside him that told him to “go West, young man” even though all the signs said that the move was a bad decision.
“I did what an engineer does. I made a list of pluses and minuses, I ran a spreadsheet. They both told me I should stay put, but my intuition was saying something different. And I listened to my intuition,” Cook said. “That was one of the most important decisions of my life. Maybe the most important.”
It’s not the first time an Apple CEO has directly referred to Dell’s infamous quip. Back in 1997, Jobs responded to Dell during a presentation by throwing up his headshot on a slide, calling him rude, and declaring, “we’re coming after you, buddy!”
‘Why are you saying this stupid thing’
But Cook’s journey to Apple wasn’t the only subject he discussed on Wednesday in an interview in which he seemed more relaxed and made more comments about his closely-held personal life than most of his other public appearances.
For example, he discussed his passion for human rights, his “very lower-middle class” upbringing, and how he feels like he can inspire gay kids.
He also commented on how some shareholders have negatively reacted to his public and semi-public comments about recent political issues, such as restrictions on immigration or the Trump administration’s lack of reaction to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Cook explained that speaking up is part of his values and he believes that people react positively to someone taking a stand on principle.
“When you see something that’s going on that is in conflict with those values, I think you have a responsibility, an obligation to speak up. Because silence is the ultimate form of consent,” Cook said.
Cook said the fact that he has to address hot-button political issues is a part of his job.
“I think the CEO role has changed. Historically, CEOs focused on revenues, profits, shareholders. I think that’s a very limited view of the world, at least for Apple it is, because Apple was founded to change the world. We make tools to empower other people to do incredible things,” Cook said.
“I know people disagree with me on this. I get notes from shareholders that say, ‘why are you saying this stupid thing.’ ‘You’re going to upset somebody that might not buy your product because you feel that way,'” he continued. “But I think the vast majority of people of even when they disagree with what you say, if you’re standing on principle and being authentic, I think people are really smart.”
He also mentioned that he knows it’s a challenge for other companies, too.
“I know it’s a new world. I know a lot of CEOs that are very uncomfortable. But it is the world. By trying to say it doesn’t exist, or make it pollyannaish, is doing no one any good.”
The entire talk is worth your time for Apple fans and investors. You can watch below: