Why Does Tim Cook Even Bother?

on February 10, 2014

Now that the world no longer has Steve Ballmer to kick around, I think it’s time we direct our focus toward Apple’s Tim Cook. After all, just like Ballmer, Cook had to follow a legendary, visionary founder. Just like Ballmer, Cook is an operations guy, skilled in maximizing profits, growing a company, making sure the trains run on time. Like Ballmer, Cook’s more top-line than techie.

The biggest difference between the two men: Ballmer is worth billions whereas Tim Cook, late to Apple, is worth mere tens of millions.

Is this fair? Probably not, though also scarcely relevant. Regardless of the scope of Steve Ballmer’s fortunes, Tim Cook has enough money to live exceedingly well for the rest of his life. Which begs the question: why does he do it? Why does Tim Cook continue to lead Apple, with all its complexities, all its obligations, when he could retire — and perhaps pursue his other passions, or offer his time to the needy?

I find it fascinating that Cook — and so many others who have so much money — continue to give so much of themselves to a business. Does merely wondering this reveal I am destined to never lead a giant, highly profitable corporation?

Like so much about the murky Mr. Cook, his actual net worth is difficult to determine. The vast majority of his money is, unsurprisingly, linked to Apple stock awards which vest piecemeal over ten years. By the end of 2015, however, and based upon the various sources I reviewed, I will ballpark Cook’s wealth at about $250 million. Imagine you hit the Lotto this week and cleared $250 million. Would you still work? Really?

Break it down:

  1. $50 million for your children
  2. $25 million to charities (10%)
  3. $25 million to your alma mater (you are generous, after all)
  4. $50 million to family, relations, friends (you are very generous, after all)

That still leaves you (and your spouse) with $100 million in cash. If you’re, say, 40, and live to 90, you have $2 million to spend every single year for the rest of your life, however you wish — not including appreciable interest and investment returns.

Would you continue at your job, with all its stresses and demands, its long hours, and limiting focus?

Why does Cook? Why did Steve Ballmer? Why do Marissa Mayer, Susan Wojcicki, and so many other smart, talented and extremely rich men and women continue? Is there really so much joy, so much power, glory and opportunity from running Yahoo, YouTube, Microsoft or Apple?

Tim Cook has said that “money is not a motivator for me.” No doubt that is mostly true. What does motivate him? The morning meeting with the lawyers over the next patent suit? Responding to customer complaints over iCloud or email? Reviewing highly complex procurement contracts? Testing the iWatch 18 months before its launch? Firing Scott Forstall? Firing John Browett? Interviewing candidates to replace him? Talking with Walt Mossberg? Meeting with the CFO to decide when to buy back the next chunk of the company? Having to sit through that meeting where they discuss how the HVAC plans aren’t up to code on the new headquarters and then being interrupted because PR is upset that so many of the Apple faithful are inquiring about the allegations that Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt conspired to keep engineering salaries in check?

It all seems so exhausting.

Tim Cook will both never be Steve Jobs and always compared to Steve Jobs. That also seems an unnecessary burden.

So, why?

I really do not know. But, here’s a clue. When Microsoft named Satya Nadella its next CEO, Steve Ballmer emailed everyone at the company:

Microsoft is one of the great companies in the world. I love this company. I love the bigness and boldness of what we do. I love the way we partner with other companies to come together to change the world. I love the breadth and the diversity of all of the customers we empower, from students in the classroom to consumers to small businesses to governments to the largest enterprises. Above all, I love the spirit of this place, the passion, and the perseverance, which has been the cornerstone of our culture from the very beginning.

Have you said the equivalent proud, beaming, loving words to your own child? Do so, now.

Ballmer has billions of dollars — billions! Why even care? That said, I am pleased he does, and that many others, particularly in tech, care just as deeply.

On the occasion of Facebook’s tenth anniversary — yes, the social network is years older than iPhone — Mark Zuckerberg shared his thoughts:

When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it.

The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more.

While some doubted that connecting the world was actually important, we were building. While others doubted that this would be sustainable, you were forming lasting connections.

We just cared more about connecting the world than anyone else. And we still do today.

He cared and continues to care.

If I had Mark Zuckerberg money, I would still write, every single day, exactly as I do now. Only, the money would almost certainly alter the pattern of my days. I would never again work for a company, nor for an editor, nor ever look for work. Would my writing then improve? Would the subject matter change? Alas, I will probably never know. I do know, however, that whatever it is beyond money that motivates the Cooks, Zuckerbergs, Ballmers, and Mayers of the world, we are almost certainly the better for it.

On a regular basis, I hear someone mock Apple or disparage Microsoft. Mere Internet flotsam, signifying nothing. The fact is, these companies have enhanced our lives, our work, creativity, play, learning, and connections with one another. We are fortunate that their leaders give so much of themselves, even when they have every reason not to.