Apple Computers’ CEO Steve Jobs resigned yesterday leaving the company’s Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook as the new company head. Apple recently became the biggest company on the stock exchange making Cook the most powerful CEO in the entire galaxy. So let’s take a look at his working style as well as what the queer community can possibly hope from from this “confirmed bachelor” beyond his being into Asian dudes.
Cook has been Jobs’ right hand man for almost 13 years now as the overseer of worldwide sales, operations and the supply chain. Cook dramatically improved the company’s bottom line by reducing its inventory holdings, increasing sales during the economic downturn, and keeping the developments of the iPhone and iPad on schedule while Jobs left to treat his pancreatic cancer. He has a reputation for being calm, un-dramatic, and supremely knowledgable of the company’s operations. He has has a reputation for being demanding: He expects employees to know the company-wide implications of their choices or fly around the world in a moment’s notice.
But Cook comes with notable liabilities as well:
Cook is not known as a product visionary or for shepherding projects through Apple’s rigorous development pipeline [or for having the negotiation prowess of Jobs who successfully persuaded media companies to make their content available exclusive to Mac products]. For those sorts of tasks, Jobs’ heir apparent is design chief Jonathan Ive, principal designer for the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, among other groundbreaking products. Cook is also not known as a compelling public speaker, which is probably why marketing chief Phil Schiller has handled the unveiling of new Apple products during Jobs’ past absences.
Cook lives in the glass closet as he has never publicly acknowledged his homosexuality (even though Apple executives have said that they would continue to back him if he did). However the executives also worry that his coming out could affect people’s perception of the Apple brand. Would an openly gay CEO sink the company’s stock? It seems unlikely, as the world’s focus has remained on Jobs’ product innovation and the CEO’s ability to steer the company in good health rather than on his private life. Apple is also somewhat of a gay brand, with its emphasis on cutting edge technology and design. Cook’s keeping his orientation out of the spotlight suggests that he will continue to do the same as CEO.
But Cook could wield his mighty influence behind the scenes to create some very positive changes for the entire queer community, Apple users or no. First, he could get Apple to create clear guidelines for its mixed treatment of gay content on the App Store. He could also offer incentives for media outlets and developers to create more LGBT friendly content, thus tapping into the rest of the queer computer user iceberg—imagine a trans Grindr-esque app that allows transfolk to find each other or a color-coded U.S. map based on the positive or negative LGBT news coming out of each state.
Second, he could use Apple’s immense standing and wealth to help the continued push for workplace equality. Apple already offers equal rights and benefits to their employees’ same-sex partners. But he could encourage manufacturers, often based in anti-gay areas of the globe, to adopt similar policies. By highlighting the company’s exemplary queer rights record and including trans medical coverage, Apple’s workplace policies could serve as a great template for other progressive companies to emulate.
Third, don’t forget that Apple generously donated $100,000 to the fight against Proposition 8. Apple could take similarly principled stands in the upcoming marriage battles in Maine and Minnesota and even quietly spearhead some behind-the-scenes organizing to get other companies, celebrities, and artists to vocally support marriage equality and gender non-discrimation. If any company could make a kickass commercial showing the world why it should care about queer rights, Apple could.
We’ll have to wait and see if Cook does make a public acknowledgment of his sexual orientation and whether his gay outlook will change the world for the better. But Gawker mentions that if Cook did publicly come out, he would join Microsoft’s openly lesbian HR chief Lisa Brummel and Google’s vice president of new business development Megan Smith as the most powerful openly gay executives in tech, only multiplied by, like, 1,000. Bust open that Silicon closet and change the world, Tim!