Apple CEO Tim Cook Contradicts Himself with Lisa Jackson Hire

Published June 7, 2013

After last week’s announcement that Apple would hire former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to handle environmental issues, a series of videos released last week by Duke University were amusingly timed.

The six clips featured interviews with CEO Tim Cook, who succeeded the late, popular Steve Jobs, and were released by his alma mater’s Fuqua School of Business, where he earned his MBA. Cook had returned for a class reunion in April and while there Duke recorded discussions about topics such as inspiration, career planning, intuition, and other aspects of business management.

But comments he made in excerpts about ethical leadership and collaboration, in light of Jackson’s new employment, were guffaw-worthy. As NLPC outlined on Monday, Jackson fled EPA after undergoing harsh scrutiny about the agency’s – and her personal – practices of evading transparency. Under that cloak she conducted a highly political and destructive implementation of President Obama‘s policies to fight the coal industry, jack up automobile fuel mileage standards, and generally set onerous rules on industries without accountability to Congress or the public.

That behavior and leadership was lost on Cook, who told his Duke U. audience about the qualities he sought in effective collaborators, which are obviously critical to Apple’s heretofore (in recent years) well-run technology business that incorporates both hardware and software products, as well as computing services such as data storage and iTunes.

“You look for people that are not political, people that are not bureaucrats…,” he said. If that’s true than Cook is completely blind to, or has ignored, the essence of Lisa Jackson.

Cook also espoused the need for intellect in an effective, technology-focused collaborative environment. Jackson, while a chemical engineer, nevertheless showed utter disdain for science and economics while leading EPA. On her watch she disregarded the evidence of several years that have shown no significant warming of the planet, and rejected the concept that cost-benefit analyses ought to be considered rather than implementing boundless government regulations that can kill businesses. That track record seemed to matter little to Cook.

“You need wicked smart people,” he said at the Duke reunion. “You look for people who appreciate different points of view.”

“I think what this place (Fuqua) teaches you so well is how to learn, and how to collaborate…,” Cook said in another interview segment, “and how to work with people that have a very different point of view and come from a different perspective than you do.”

Jackson consistently demonstrated while at EPA that she had no interest in, or respect for, those with perspectives other than her own. Rather than consider the concerns of millions of citizens about the impacts of her rulemaking, and the idea that her scientific views were based upon flawed computer model predictions rather than observed environmental phenomena, she remained housed in insularity as she conducted wars against fossil fuels. Instead of incorporating the wisdom of private business leaders who could help (“collaborate”) on the formation of regulations, Jackson preferred to operate with kindred souls while trampling on government transparency behind obscured email correspondence and redacted documents. Cook has overlooked that legacy.

In a subsequent segment interviewer William Boulding, dean of the Fuqua School, stroked Cook’s ego by crediting him with a “very strong ethical compass,” and asked him what such leadership means to him.

“When I think of ethics, I think of leaving things better than you found them,” he replied. “And to me that goes from everything from environmentally, to how you work with suppliers, with labor questions, to your carbon footprint of your products, to the things you choose to support, to the way you treat your employees. Your whole persona, to me, fits under that umbrella.

“And the simple way to think about it, to me, is leaving things better than you found them. And that is what we try to do at Apple in a very simple way.”

The irony of hiring Jackson was lost on Cook there as well. Had she been running the company the last few years instead of Jobs or Cook, she would have at least frowned upon – and probably would have prevented – Apple from building its enormous computer server farm in Western North Carolina. Because of her lousy collaborative skills and dictatorial bent; her political submission to environmental pressure groups; and her ignorance about the economics and science about energy, Apple’s plan to use vast amounts of electricity generated by Duke Energy’s affordable coal, natural gas and nuclear resources would have been quashed by a Jackson CEO. Not even hundreds of acres of solar panels and many megawatts of fuel cell generation would likely have mitigated Jackson’s distaste for an Apple/Duke power deal.

In his Fuqua School interview Cook also espoused his three-fold focus for managing Apple: people, strategy and execution.

“In our case, we’re all about products,” Cook told his Duke U. audience. “So our strategy is very product-oriented.”

How hiring Jackson fits in with, or falls under, any of those categories as it improves Apple’s products and services is a mystery. On its own the company already plays the environmental consciousness game to pacify its green-minded customers about as well as it can. Jackson adds nothing on that count, and adds nothing everywhere else too. She disrespects people, as reflected by her underling regional administrators like Al Armendariz who advocated “crucifying” oil and natural gas companies as a regulator before he left to help destroy coal for an environmental group. Her strategy is dictatorial rather than collaborative, and the only execution she believes in is for fossil fuel industries.

Cook’s decision to hire Jackson most likely comes from somewhere else. In his Duke interview he recalled his decision in the late 1990s to leave stable Compaq for then-struggling Apple, which had been declared on life-support by many industry experts, after Jobs returned to the company from exile. Cook explained how financial considerations and personal advisors favored remaining at Compaq, as did his own plusses-minuses list, yet he ignored all the evidentiary factors and followed his gut feelings to Apple.

“How could you even think of doing this?” Cook recalled his friends telling him about his decision to join Apple. “You’ve lost your mind.

“And yet,” Cook continued, “that voice said, ‘Go west, young man, go west.’ And sometimes you just have to go for it.”

That could be his only explanation for hiring Lisa Jackson, because all other considerations pointed the other way.

[First posted at National Legal and Policy Center]