Will Tim Cook’s Apple become a leading Ethical Data Corporation?

March 6, 2015

Paul Hinks

Apple WatchWhen Tim Cook inherited Apple, it was as much an opportunity to fail rather than an opportunity to succeed in re-inventing to Corporation through transformative technologies in the spirit of Steve Job’s legacy. The proposed strategic move into Big Data may prove more significant even than the development of the much- anticipated Apple Watch

Apple’s ‘spring forward’ event scheduled for 9th March 2015 will showcase Apple’s upcoming innovations – including Apple’s much-anticipated watch . This is an important moment for Tim Cook.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tim Cook makes the case for an inclusive workplace

November 4, 2014

Paul Hinks

So Tim Cook is gay. The announcement wasn’t so much about the ‘outing’ of Tim Cook, as a message that openly supports diversity and equality in the workplace. The fact that Tim Cook is CEO of Apple, America’s largest firm, adds gravitas to the story.

Race, gender, age, disability, sexual preference are all topics with which organizations have to grapple. Firms are keen to demonstrate they are operating a diverse and ethical workplace where everyone has their fair chance regardless of their personal circumstance or outlook. Perhaps too many firms ‘talk the talk’ with the aim of ticking a box in a corporate brochure?

Tim Cook’s announcement provides an authentic message that Apple is an organization that understands the importance of providing support to ‘their most important asset’. Harnessing different perspectives from a diverse workforce provides a win:win – people with different values and background see things differently from those who are turned into generic corporate clones – walking and talking a certain way – it can all become a bit a dull, boring and predictable. Tim Cook’s announcement is not about him per se; it’s about promoting equality and diversity – and perhaps re-enforcing a culture that can provoke creativity and innovation.

Tim Cook has never denied being gay, but he is acknowledged and recognized as being a private individual. So to publicly make a statement about a private and personal matter, and then place the context of the statement around support for others deserves credit and recognition.

The New York Times provided insight and a deeper perspective:

As Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, put it, “He’s chief executive of the Fortune One. This is Tim Cook and Apple. This will resonate powerfully.”

Mr. Cook was plainly reluctant, and, as he put it in his essay in Bloomberg Businessweek, “I don’t seek to draw attention to myself.” But, he wrote, he came to the realization that “If hearing that the C.E.O. 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.”

Mr. Cook’s essay also seemed carefully drafted to be inclusive, to embrace anyone who feels different or excluded, which could broaden its impact far beyond the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Mr. Cook was “wonderfully candid about why it was difficult for him to come out,” said Kenji Yoshino, a constitutional law professor at New York University and co-author of “Uncovering Talent: a New Model for Inclusion.”

“When I give presentations on diversity and inclusion in organizations, I often start by noting that of the Fortune 500 C.E.O.s, 5 percent are women, 1 percent are black and zero percent are openly gay,” Professor Yoshino said.

In his essay, Mr. Cook wrote that he was many things besides being gay: “an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic.” Professor Yoshino noted: “When Drew Faust became the first female president of Harvard, she made a similar point. ‘I am not the woman president of Harvard,’ she said. ‘I’m the president of Harvard.’ ”

Apple’s future success

Since taking over the leadership of Apple from Steve Jobs in 2011, Tim Cook has demonstrated that he can successfully pilot the largest corporation in America. Tim Cook is not Apple’s ‘gay’ CEO, he’s Apple’s current and successful CEO.

In terms of competitiveness, Apple is currently riding the crest of a wave. The recent product launch of the iPhone 6 broke all records – so there’s no obvious need for a cheap publicity stunt. Tim Cook’s announcement shouldn’t be seen much as statement about himself, rather his statement symbolises the importance of providing an inclusive, diverse and stimulating workplace, one which supports new ideas, aims to look at the same situation from different perspectives – a culture true to Apple’s values – one which fosters creativity and innovation.

In the future, perhaps Tim Cook’s announcement will be reflected upon as the time when Apple took a leadership position in supporting diversity and equality in a positive and effective way. It will be interesting to see how many other industry leaders follow Mr Cook’s lead.

Apple’s new leader faces ethical dilemmas at Foxconn

January 31, 2012

As Tim Cook picks up the leadership of Apple from Steve Jobs, he faces a significant ethical dilemma in Wuhan in a supplier’s company where workers threaten suicide in protest over their working conditions


by Paul Hinks

Articles recently reported that Tim Cook (Apple’s new CEO) earned $378m in 2011. He inherited a global technology juggernaut, renowned for its creativity and innovation; a business with $90 billion in cash reserves (The Guardian). Yet there are serious problems at one of its key suppliers, Foxconn, where a recent mass suicide threat posed an ethical dilemma facing Apple and its new leader.

The Telegraph reported [11th Jan 2012]:

Around 150 Chinese workers at Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, threatened to commit suicide by leaping from their factory roof in protest at their working conditions. The workers were eventually coaxed down after two days on top of their three-floor plant in Wuhan by Foxconn managers and local Chinese Communist party officials.

Not all measures should be financial

A lot of organisations highlight in their annual reports the progress they’ve made against various Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) metrics. Very commendable, but it’s important to dig deeper beyond the glossy brochures and corporate fanfare. Increasingly social-economic factors come in to play, creating a conflict of priorities opposite financial metrics.

Apple is indeed well placed to influence the working conditions at Foxconn. Despite assurances from Apple on its website that it is committed to the highest standards of social responsibility across its worldwide supply chain, the evidence presented highlights that Foxconn employees are seriously aggrieved with their working conditions. In an online article published on Thursday 26 Jan 2012 Reuters noted Apple’s apparent silence on the Foxconn situation – referencing on-going investigations carried out by the New York Times, the Reuters article is an example of growing interest and awareness of the problems at Foxconn.

Difficult working conditions

The Foxconn situation has not developed overnight. The Guardian reported recently [16th Jan 2012] the problems had been developing since at least 2010:

In 2010, a total of 18 of their colleagues in the Shenzhen campus of the Taiwan-owned company did attempt suicide; 14 died. Some employees and labour organisations blamed a combination of factors for the workers’ deaths: low wages, long working hours – sometimes up to 16 hours a day – and inhuman treatment. A number of Apple products have been cited as ‘game changers’ – products that have helped to change how we use technology to live our lives – in stark contrast, it seems that the workforce at Foxconn that help to create these Apples products survive, and sadly tolerate a rather mundane existence. Loyal Apple consumers crave for their Apple products. However, it appears there is a darker, more un-savoury side to how Apple products make it to our shelves.

Leaders can’t ignore ethics

On Tuesday [Jan 24th 2012], Apple announced its financial results for its first fiscal quarter: the figures were impressive and beat analysts’ expectations. Bloomberg (& others) immediately focused on the financial merits of Apple’s results – increasing revenue forecasts & speculating on dividend payments – a few websites noted the share price increments of various Apple suppliers, including Foxconn.

This is all very good news if you’re an Apple shareholder – however will the fortunes of Apple mean anything to the workers in Wuhan?

I borrow a comment from Dilemmas of Leadership [1st edition, p196]: “For some leaders, matters of ethics arise as unwelcome intrusion in the pursuit of economic success”.

Apple’s financial strength isn’t in doubt; however Apple’s position on ethical topics such as the welfare of workers at its suppliers is clearly attracting increased interest. Continued negative media coverage of working conditions at its suppliers may begin to influence and alter customer perceptions of the Apple brand; perhaps ultimately impacting Apple’s cherished economic success?

The need for more than ethical tokenism

The Telegraph highlighted [27 Jan 2012] that Apple have been working on number of initiatives:

In response to outside pressure, Apple this year published a list of its 156 suppliers, representing almost all its supply chain, for the first time. It also joined the Fair Labor Association, becoming the first technology company to do so. Apple has also worked with Chinese labour rights advocates, environmental groups, and has agreed to allow outside monitors into its suppliers’ factories.

Hopefully, Mr Cook and Apple will ensure their corrective actions are interpreted as more than just ethical tokenism; the challenges presented at Foxconn provide an opportunity for Apple to lead by example beyond the technology forum where it enjoys such enviable success.


Paul sent us updating information [Feb 14th 2012]  You can find more out about Paul in his earlier post on Antonio Horta-Osorio.

Update [LWD editors]

More than 10 people were injured in a fight that broke out among workers at a Foxconn plant in north China’s Shanxi Province, police said Monda [September 2012]

Foxconn, the world’s largest maker of computer components, faced criticism on harsh working conditions two years ago after a string of suicides committed by several Chinese factory employees. The company currently has about 1 million employees on the Chinese mainland.

The relationship between Foxconn and Apple flourishes. China Daily announced [May 2012]

Foxconn Technology Group will invest $210 million to build an Apple production line in October in east China’s Jiangsu province, local authorities announced Monday to be located in Huai’an city. Foxconn Technology Group, a top maker of products for Apple, announced [April 2012] that it will build a high-tech manufacturing base in Hainan, China’s southernmost island.

The working conditions at FoxConn have been said to have improved:

Working conditions have improved at plants owned by Foxconn, a Taiwan-based electronics giant and Apple Inc’s biggest supplier, according to a report released on Tuesday. The Fair Labor Association, a United States-based nonprofit organization, said that Foxconn, a Taiwan-based electronics giant and Apple Inc’s biggest supplier, has completed the actions it agreed to take to improve working conditions at its two plants in Shenzhen and one plant in Chengdu, which make Apple’s popular iPhone and iPad products.

Sunday 7th October 2012

There is growing interest internationally in the Foxconn situation. China Daily commented as follows:

A major supplier for tech giant Apple on Saturday denied reports that thousands of workers making components for the iPhone 5 went on strike at the company’s plant in Zhengzhou, Henan province.

The strike was said to have started at 1 pm Friday [5th October 2012] and continued to 11 pm, involving workers mainly from assembly lines and quality-control inspectors.

“Foxconn raised overly-strict demands on product quality without providing worker training for the corresponding skills. This led to workers turning out products that did not meet standards, and ultimately put a tremendous amount of pressure on workers,” China Labor Watch said in a statement.

October 12th 2012

A new story is developing which suggests harsh treatment of an employee after a near-fatal accident.

October 18th 2012

Latest allegation in Western media is of Foxconn using underage students to work in one of their factories.

November 26th 2012

Foxconn has begun its scheme to replace workers with robots which have been called Foxbotts. Scheme was announced in 2011

March 8th 2013

Major report claims Foxconn factories are ‘Labour camps’

April 2nd 2013

Foxconn profits jump aided by manufacture of Apple components. However, The adverse publicity continues with a denied report about a further suicide attempt as a Foxconn factory.

May 21st 2013

Apple leaders including Tim Cook defend the Corporation’s tax arrangements to a Senate Sub-Committee.

October 5th 2013

Two years after the death of Steve Jobs, leaders present and departed at Apple are compared.

February 17th 2014

Stories are emerging of Apple’s interest in diversification, specifically into acquiring electric car business Tesla. ‘Clean green’ image may appeal to Apple as brand strengthening. Foxconn also indicates wish to diversify away from intensive factory manufacturing with a Billion dollar investment into Indonesia for more automated manufacturing processes.

March 3rd 2014

Cook displays his ethical and environmental credentials and concerns Says business is ‘not just about making a profit.

April 18th 2014

Apple blunders in attempt to avoid ethical threats to its image.

May 7th 2014

Big golden hello of $67 million to new retail boss from Burberry.

June 20th 2014

Suggestion that Cook should make CSR a priority

July 4th 2014

Apple CEO’s Cook’s statement at Investors’ meeting has become a matter of debate

July 18th 2014

Apple faces charges of illegal price-fixing of e-books

September 26th 2014

Another bad news story as Leukaemia victims at Foxconn plant die but no support offered by firm.

October 6th 2014
At last: a good news story. Foxconn to build an electric car for Chinese market. $800 million investment.

October 29th 2014

Apple 6 mocked by Conan O’Brien as flaccid in parody commercial comparison with Galaxy Note 4

October 30th 2014

Apple chief Tim Cook is .. ‘Proud to be gay’.

November 1st 2014

Tim Cook has become a gay icon overnight partly through social media. Says he did not want to be ‘an activist’.

Dec 15th 2014

Anti-trust case. Apple appeals judgement against its i-pad entry into e-books market

December 18th 2014

Another worker abuse story from Pegatron, another Apple supplier

Apple ‘deeply offended’ by BBC investigation of the allegations

January 25th 2014

Tim Cook in line for $500 million stock bonus

January 28th 2015

Apple records largest profits in history: Shares in rise more than 6pc after it records biggest profits ever reported by a company, ‘equivalent to $8.3m profit every hour of the day’

February 15th 2015

Evaluation of Tim Cook’s impact as leader  two years after his appointment.

March 7th 2015

Apple’s strategy of Big Data management examined

Match 14th 2015
Apple executive slams unofficial biography of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs to donate much of his wealth to charitable stories

July 21st 2015

Quarterly Sales watch on Apple watch sales. Not good news.

October 29th 2015

Apple stock down although its financials up, as is Tim Cook’s reputation.   Investors said to be ‘spoiled’. One suggestion. It is explained by lack of evidence of iWatch potential.

January 30th 2016

activist shareholder declares Apple shares seriously under valued.  Call for buy back of shares to adjust value.

Feb 18th 2016

Apple in battle with FBI over terrorist phone information

February 29 2016

Summary of the ‘FBI v Apple’ case here from an Indian source here.

April 14th 2016

FBI Director reflects on the dispute with Apple now on its way to resolution

April 27th 2016

Apple profits and stock valuation dip.


Apple faces a Jobless future

August 25, 2011

Tim Cook and Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, iconic leader and one of the great creative innovators of his era, leaves the company he founded and built into a global superstar

The departure of Steve Jobs as leader of Apple on medical grounds has been anticipated in and outside Apple for some time. We can anticipate even more news coverage of the iconic figure whose design genius was behind a steam of products since the time of the first Apple personal computer, launched as the Apple 2

Quirky but much loved

This was quirky but much but much loved. Even the earliest versions were revolutionary in appearance and functioning. They suggested a future for personal computing that could not be imagined in the market leading IBM product and its host of imitators trying to be as compatible as a possible at lower cost.

The Apple Mac

Then the Apple Mac came along. This was even more obviously evidence of new species emerging. They are coming from a common ancestor, but retaining a genetic capacity to visualize as well as to digitalise.

IBM and clones under threat

Apple products become a serious threat to the generic sounding PC (i.e. IBM’s products and its clones). Compatibility was more an aspiration than a reality for each set of products, and even today there are enough differences to create famous entry barriers to switching from one of the two IT tribes.

Design excellence

Apple developed a brand image of innovation and design excellence. The company succeeded in grabbing a share of the emerging mobile phone market with its i-phone and then the tablet market with the i-pad. Apple stores became cathedrals for worshippers.

And each of the innovative leaps in the company was utterly associated with the design genius of Steve Jobs. Stock levels were seen to shift according to reports on his deteriorating health.

Symbolic leadership

This is one of the clearest example of symbolic leadership to be found in modern times. Steve Jobs was Apple. The closest parallel I can think of is that of Walt Disney. Incidentally, you can find fascinating comparisons of the two companies in the book Disney Wars.

All is not gloom and doom

There are naturally signs of bereavement at present at Apple. But all is not gloom and doom. Apple has had a strong internal candidate waiting to step up. The evidence is that the company has faced the realities of succession. Tim Cook is already highly regarded internally for his operational and organizational talents. He was appointed in what seemed like one last symbolic act after his strong endorsement by Steve Jobs in his letter of resignation. We will learn much more of Mr Cook in the coming months. Will Apple now enter a post-charismatic era in its public image?