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Apple chief Tim Cook says the one thing no CEO is ever supposed to say in new interview

Dec 6, 2012

Yesterday Apple saw its stock drop 6%, its biggest single-day drop in four years. After a year of monstrous growth investors apparently started to worry that Apple won’t be able to sustain the frenzy. Trying to fill the extremely large shoes left by Steve Jobs, now is the time when most CEOs in Tim Cook’s shoes would start panicking and assuring shareholders that the company has six thousand new products slated for launch and that the sky’s the limit for its future share price.

But today Bloomberg ran an interview with Cook titled “Cook Says Lives Enriched Matters More Than Money Made.” It’s a sprawling 9,000+ word interview. But the real money shot, buried somewhere in the middle of Cook explaining why they have no intention of making iCars or a bevy of other future products, is this:

That’s a part of our base principle, that we will only do a few things. And we’ll only do things where we can make a significant contribution I don’t mean financially. I mean some significant contribution to the society at large. You know, we want to really enrich people’s lives at the end of the day, not just make money. Making money might be a byproduct, but it’s not our North Star.

To say making money isn’t your “North Star” as CEO of what was just recently the most valuable company in the world is a bold move. Saying it the same week your stock is plumbing four-year lows is downright brazen. It’s almost iconoclastic—something Jobs himself might have been proud of.

Under Tim Cook’s tenure Apple has released a popular new mini iPad and a (mostly) popular iPhone, but it hasn’t released a new product category. That the whole world is wondering whether magic can strike again with an iTV or some new device is testament to how large Steve Jobs’s shadow still looms.

But the way to capture magic isn’t through pandering to shareholders—it’s by focusing on making a few truly great things and ignoring the rest. That’s what Jobs did, and it worked out pretty well. When Cook took over as CEO many criticized his background in operations as proof that he wouldn’t have the vision to keep Apple on track. But the interview he just gave seems to pick up the gauntlet right where Jobs threw it down.

Of course Cook’s real test will come when the first new product category launches. That could be the long-rumored television, but the interview didn’t provide any real details on that—for now it’s still a mystery. Which, again, is probably how Jobs would have wanted it.

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