An Open Letter To Apple CEO Tim Cook

Dear Tim,

I don’t envy you.

You are following in the footsteps of a man revered by millions, hailed as a genius, a visionary, a modern-day Edison.

You are building on a string of product launches that revolutionized music, laptops, mobile, and telephony.

You are faced with innumerable tributes to your predecessor, including my own, coupled with the scathing sarcasm of The Onion: "Panicking Apple Board of Directors Attempts to Restart Steve Jobs."

To say that Jobs is a tough act to follow is like saying Everest is a tough mountain to climb. It is the toughest. But the toughest scenarios house our greatest opportunities to shine -- and such an opportunity lies before you.

Apple has made huge environmental strides since Greenpeace first put you in their crosshairs back in 2003, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. But you were slow to get started -- behind Samsung, Nokia, LG, HP, and Dell in phasing out BFRs and PVC -- and your work is far from done. In April, you were named Least Green Tech Company by Greenpeace. You rely heavily on coal for your data centers and are unclear about your future toxic chemical phase-out plans. Tim, there will be no underdog, turnaround, come-from-behind story for Apple’s products -- but there can be one for your environmental record, and you can be its hero.

But beyond environmentalism lies humanitarianism. I truly believe that you were as disturbed as anyone by the suicides at your supplier Foxconn, and I appreciate that you’ve taken steps to address the conditions there. Yes, they hired counselors. And yes, they increased worker salaries 30% (although it’s worth noting that the increase still leaves the monthly wage of a line worker below U.S. $150). But surely you must recognize that there is still a fundamental problem with the working conditions, if one of the solutions touted by Foxconn -- and praised by you in your supplier report -- is to place nets around the buildings to catch jumpers. Surely you must recognize that requiring people to sign a legally binding document stating that they won’t commit suicide is tantamount to admitting that their dignity and well-being -- even their lives -- are worth significantly less than their ability to churn out personal electronic devices at low cost.

Your products are and have always been extraordinary for the focus on the user experience. I remember a friend showing me the first iPhone I ever saw. “This is the coolest bit,” he enthused, as he scrolled through his contacts list. “See? See there? How it bounces when you hit the end? That’s what makes Apple so awesome.”

That almost absurd attention to the customer has propelled your brand to the position of reverence it holds today. But imagine for a moment that you focused that same absurd attention on humanity. Imagine if you made the world a better place for everyone, instead of just making life cooler and more fashionable for those of us privileged enough to never worry about our next meal.

Tim, I have total faith that you will continue to release exceptional devices: elegant, beautiful, gratifying, and steeped in Apple’s famous attention to detail. Sadly, no matter their worth, your devices will eternally be compared to their forerunners; their successes will be attributed to the foundation on which they were built, and their failures will be held up in stark contrast to the legendary mystique of the Jobs years.

But if you revolutionize the culture of Apple to be about more than just the consumer experience and the bottom line, if you lead from the front with a commitment not only to your customers and shareholders but also to your employees, to your suppliers, to your community, and to the world, you will have done more than continue Jobs’ legacy. You will have created one that is uniquely yours -- one that will set you apart among business leaders and one that your grandchildren will brag to their friends about.

I applaud you for taking on the role of CEO. As I said at the beginning, I don’t envy you the job. And I stand with you as you lead Apple into its next revolutionary iteration. It is up to you to think different. I know you can do it.

Warmest regards,
Kaila Colbin
@kcolbin

Tags: apple
Recommend (6) Print RSS
6 comments about "An Open Letter To Apple CEO Tim Cook".
  1. David Bosher from SnagAJob.com, Inc. , October 14, 2011 at 2:39 p.m.
    Here we go again. A perfectly fine company, one of the best in the world, and now the green kooks have them in the gunsight because they are focused on "humanity" or "green" enough. Consumers seem to be perfectly happy with Apple and I hope they will stick to making awesome products we all love and to taking share of their employees and shareholders and not listening to the mindless second guessing of people like Kaila Colbin. Tim - go kick butt making great products - period.
  2. Randy Kirk from Randy Kirk & Associates , October 14, 2011 at 2:41 p.m.
    Yes, with great profit, power, and prestige, comes great responsibility to give back. However, try to resist the temptation to give back based on pressure groups. While I'm confident that there is a liberal bent in the halls of Apple, maybe the nation would be better served if you created an app that explains how business actually works, how entrepreneurs are motivated, how cash is raised, and why over regulation can demotivate and discourage even the best and brightest. Maybe you could drive home the need for our schools to teach competitiveness, responsibility, and a desire to give to their neighbors and their community rather than hold their hand out. Best to you Tim A huge Apple Fan
  3. Gretchen Treffiletti from Media6Degrees , October 14, 2011 at 3:10 p.m.
    I completely agree that Tim Cook will need to do something above and beyond continuing to create beautiful products in order to establish his own legacy and step out of Steve Jobs' shadow. These are some great ideas and I truly hope Tim Cook reads this letter! Nice work Kaila - you're one of my favorite Spin writers - second only behind my husband, Cory. :-)
  4. Fj Rich from EPI , October 15, 2011 at 7:55 a.m.
    I feel your passion, Kaila, but you're sounding a bit one-dimensional. Apple take heed; the world needs help from all its stakeholders.
  5. Kaila Colbin from Ministry of Awesome , October 17, 2011 at 2:38 p.m.
    Thank you so much for your comments, everyone -- and Gretchen, thank you for your kind words! I love Cory's writing :) David, Randy, and Fj, I hope my article made it clear that I am also an Apple fan. David, I'm not sure I understand your point. I certainly want Apple to continue to make awesome products we all love! Are you suggesting that we deserve iPhones no matter the cost, no matter what people have to do in order for us to get them? This is a genuine question; I'd like to better understand your point of view. Randy, I'd like to understand your point a bit better as well. Are you saying Apple should create an app or that I should? As founder or co-founder of numerous startups, I well appreciate the challenges, constraints and motivations of entrepreneurship. Thanks again. I hope you'll continue the conversation with me. If you'd like to take this offline, please also feel free to email me via MediaPost. Warmest regards, Kaila
  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , October 31, 2011 at 8:04 p.m.
    Beautiful letter. Without concern for the physical building of a company/product, there will not be an environment in which to build or people with enough finances to purchase the building. Wasn't it Henry Ford, of all people, to want to make sure the people who worked for him could buy the product they made ?