How Tim Cook and Kushner Saved Apple Billions:3 of 3 (The Give and Take of Cook)


Mr. Cook seems to have the right touch to please Apple employees, Apple customers, and the President.

Mr. Cook grew up outside Mobile, Ala., earned an engineering degree at Auburn University and an M.B.A. from Duke. He is an operations wizard, skilled at minimizing costs. In his previous role at Apple, he shifted production from the U.S. to China, and helped build a business there that accounts for one-fifth of Apple’s revenue.

“We’re going to get Apple to build their damn computers in this country instead of other countries,” the President said during a 2016 campaign speech.

The month after his election, Mr. Trump called Mr. Cook to New York. Mr. Trump was friendly and charming. He told Mr. Cook he looked forward to working together and encouraged the CEO to contact Mr. Kushner with any issues.

Mr. Cook spoke about Apple’s manufacturing practices, drawing a contrast between smartphone production and automobile manufacturing, he warned the President that a trade war with China would be a big problem for major American companies such as Apple.

Mr. Cook came away from the meeting with a sense that Mr. Trump listened and that they could work together, however this was tested a month later when Mr. Trump signed an executive order suspending entry to the U.S. from several Muslim-majority nations.

Mr. Cook, an immigration advocate, was surprised. Mr. Cook emailed Apple employees, saying he made clear to officials in Washington that the company and nation wouldn’t exist without immigration. This did not end his relation with the White House though, Ivanka called on Mr. Cook for help: Would he speak to her father about his plan to exit from the Paris Climate Accord?

Mr. Cook’s appeal to preserve the U.S. commitment to the climate agreement obviously didn’t succeed, but it allowed him to convey his feelings to the president directly before sending an email to employees that criticized exiting the climate agreement.

Mr. Cook has said that before he speaks publicly on an issue he asks himself: Does Apple have a right to talk about this? Do we have standing? He speaks out about education, privacy, human rights, immigration and the environment. “I don’t think business should only deal in commercial things,” he said at a conference last year.

Before challenging Mr. Trump’s policies publicly, though, often he or a member of Apple’s public-affairs team alerts the White House through Mr. Kushner or other senior White House officials. Cook also knows the value of silence. Trump recently communicated that Apple intended to build 3 new plants in the US and while Mr. Cook had spoken with the president about manufacturing around that time, the CEO hadn’t discussed three plants in the U.S. Cook didn’t challenge Mr. Trump because “it would have been a tweet war.”

“In being measured and thoughtful, he doesn’t create crisis when there doesn’t need to be one, or antagonism when there doesn’t need to be any,” one of the former administration officials said of Mr. Cook.

Cook is also willing to act as form of credible public relations for the President. Less than a month after the tax bill was signed, Apple announced it would contribute $350 billion to the U.S. economy over five years. Even though that was consistent with Apple’s previous spending levels in the U.S., Mr. Cook went on ABC News to tout the commitment, as well as Apple’s promise to develop a new Apple campus, which it later awarded to Austin, Texas. Mr. Trump praised Apple later that month during the State of the Union address, saying its spending was an example of the benefits of tax cuts.

Despite the tariff threat, Apple made plans to manufacture a new version of its Mac Pro in China. The current version of the computer was produced in Austin, Texas. Several weeks later, Apple reversed its plan for the Mac Pro, announcing it would continue to make it in Austin, after the administration granted exclusions on tariffs for some Chinese-made components in the desktop computer.

“The reason I speak to Tim Cook: He’s the one that calls me,” Mr. Trump said in August.

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Economics, Finance and Investing