Apple CEO Tim Cook’s candid comments about equality

December 17, 2013

Tim Cook is in Washington this week, speaking with the president about Healthcare.gov, the federal information technology contracting system and national security issues. But last week, he was in New York to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from his alma mater, Auburn University. In rare public remarks--and with the sort of candor that is equally rare for a CEO--the Apple chief executive spoke about the need for immigration reform and his support for legislation to fight discrimination.

He's also an Auburn Tigers fan, so he couldn't help starting his speech by saying, "I may ask for one extra second at the end because we all know how much of a difference that can make," referring to Auburn's big last-minute win over Alabama earlier this season.

Cook, who grew up in Alabama, talks in the speech about seeing a cross burning at a home not far from his. He quotes Nelson Mandela, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King--photos of the latter two hang in his office, he says. And he speaks in personal and at times emotional tones (equality, he says, is "at the core of my beliefs and values") about his support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and for immigration reform. "I have seen and I have experienced many other types of discrimination, and all of them were rooted in the fear of people that were different than the majority."

As for that one extra second at the end, Cook used it to challenge young people to "push with all your might to influence your reps to vote against discrimination. If you believe as I do, advocate and push for immigration reform that recognizes basic human rights and human dignity. Both of these are great for the American economy. But do not do them because they are economically sound--although they are. Do them because they are right and just."

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Five Nelson Mandela tributes that will change how you think

Martin Luther King's other great speeches

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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