Defining a Hero


Apple CEO Tim Cook has announced he is gay. Typically, when a CEO’s personal life becomes a major issue, it is a bad thing.

I do think this will have an adverse impact on Apple’s sales, but I also think it will have a beneficial impact on the world — and after some soul searching, I applaud Cook’s taking this action. I’ll share my thoughts about why a CEO doing something both controversial and potentially heroic is a good thing.

I’ll close with my product of the week: the Alienware 13 laptop.

Problem CEOs

CEOs often run into trouble when their personal life takes center stage. Steve Jobs was particularly aware of that, which is why you didn’t really hear much about his interests or private life. When on camera or in front of a reporter, he forced the reporter to talk about the product.

One photographer was told that if he didn’t actually take the picture Steve Jobs wanted, with the new iPod in front of his face, then Jobs would leave and the guy could get someone else for the cover. It became one of the most famous Apple covers ever.

Jobs understood that any ink focused on anything else didn’t move product, and he was focused like a laser on moving product.

Carly Fiorina struggled with folks who wanted to talk about being the first woman CEO of a major company, and she too felt it was a waste of time. Just fighting that fight became a huge distraction for her and HP, and it led to some really hard feelings between HP and key reporters at the time.

She then focused on politics and things went sideways — ironically, her political career was pretty short-lived as well.

Eric Schmidt over at Google has an infamous open marriage and a foot-in-mouth problem that would make Joe Biden proud. He is no longer CEO, though, and as chairman he has simply become a traveling embarrassment that Google seems to ignore these days. About the time his proclivities became visible also was about the time the board thought Google would be better off with someone else running it.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what it is — politics, marital infidelity (which is far more common in Silicon Valley than folks realize), sex or sexual orientation. When it becomes news, it can become a distraction, and the fourth quarter is a really bad time for a company like Apple to have another distraction.

Human Tolerance

Apple does have an incredibly powerful brand, however, and it is very popular with some very intolerant demographics. By going public at this time, Tim Cook is forcing an interesting choice: Become more tolerant, or lose the ability to be proud of a product that most Apple fans are connected to very tightly.

While I have little doubt some may choose to stay intolerant — many, if not most, likely will begin looking at the whole issue of sexual orientation a bit differently, and by the end of the quarter, they may give up their intolerance in order to continue to enjoy their beloved Apple product.

This suggests that some percentage of folks who are currently intolerant of gays — and given Apple’s reach, that could be a big percentage — may moderate their positions and move the tolerance needle significantly as a result. I expect many have a tighter and more consistent relationship with their iPhone than they have with their minister, and that will force some interesting changes in behavior.

So, while I think Apple likely will take some kind of an economic hit for Tim Cook’s move, I expect intolerance actually will take a bigger hit. While I think that in general, CEOs shouldn’t do things like this, I have to admit that in this instance, Cook’s action does qualify as heroic.

I also think it’s good for the human race, which could use a bit less intolerance. In the end, I wish more CEOs would put people ahead of product, because it would make the world a better place — and for this reason, I applaud Cook’s decision.

Wrapping Up: Doing What’s Right

Often, when CEOs’ personal lives come into tight focus, it is because they are doing something wrong — like insider trading or having a company-paid mistress. However, from time to time, CEOs come into focus because they are doing something right — like stepping up to fight cancer, injustice, or as Bill Gates does, getting clean water and medicine to developing countries.

By focusing on the idea of greater tolerance, Tim Cook is doing something positive, and I think this kind of behavior should be encouraged.

The question to noodle on, and this takes me back to why most successful CEOs keep their personal lives under wraps, is this: Regardless of whether you agree with me about Cook, do you feel the same way about Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy who came out with a strong anti-gay position? He also felt he was doing the right thing.

For me, it comes back to tolerance, which I think leads to a happier life, a better workplace and a stronger race, so I can support Cook and not Cathy, while not feeling hypocritical — but it is an interesting question to ponder, especially as we enter the Christmas season.

I’ve never thought of the Apple brand in connection to tolerance, but that changed for me last week, and I can’t help but think that’s a good thing.

Source : Defining a Hero: Why It Matters That Apple’s CEO Is Gay, Rob Enderle¬† (¬† )


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