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2014 Tsinghua Global Management Forum
Jul 13, 2020

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc., was unveiled as a new member of Tsinghua SEM Advisory Board last year and subsequently exchanged in a candid dialogue with Dean QIAN and Tsinghua students as part of his first attendance in the annual Advisory Board Meeting this year.  Amongst the backdrop of Tim’s visit to Tsinghua University has been Apple’s growing presence in China, the world’s largest handset market. In early 2014, Apple signed a long-awaited deal with China Mobile and the company has continued to vow its full commitment to grow in the Chinese market.

Tim’s dialogue with Dean QIAN at the 2014 Tsinghua Global Management Forum was undoubtedly intimate and warm as he shared several memorable personal stories and anecdotes about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, his succession of Steve, and Apple’s strategy and position in China.  Tim provided first-hand insight about Steve’s genius and how Steve’s meticulous sense of detail and focus spurred his innovation. Many have wondered over the years why Steve Jobs wore the same style clothes every day – his signature black turtleneck and jeans. Tim told us that Steve was so fixated and focused on the details of his decision making that he knew having to decide what clothes to wear in the morning would clutter his mind. Consequently, Steve sought to remove all unnecessary clutter in order to free his mind, wearing the same outfit every single day.  

Another highlight from the dialogue was a story regarding his succession of Apple. Tim discussed how Job’s, on his deathbed, stated that he didn’t want Apple to become like Disney did after Walt Disney passed away. When Walt passed away, top Disney management had the sentiment of asking, “what would Walt Disney do (if he were alive)?” To Steve, this stalled the company’s innovation. Rather, Steve told Tim to “never think about what he (Jobs) would do, but to do what is right.” Ultimately, Cook told us that Steve’s comments have significantly reduced his own burdens at Apple.

The addition of Tim Cook to Tsinghua’s Advisory Board will no doubt provide a role model, who exemplifies perseverance and courage, to our students. Tim has always exceeded expectations and surpassed the barriers set upon him. Many wondered whether Apple’s hegemony as the world’s most valuable company would be challenged after the passing of Steve Jobs. They questioned whether Tim, a COO whose professional background was in managing supply chains, was able to lead the people at Apple. By the summer of 2013, Apple’s stock price was 40% below its previous record high.


Today, under Tim’s leadership, Apple is flying high. The company has finally begun to seriously return its cash to shareholders, has adopted a more collaborative strategy given new challenges from rivals Google and its Android platform, and has broadened its portfolio by entering new product categories, all cumulating to push Apple’s stock price to an all-time high and become the world’s most valuable company (relative to market capitalization).

While Tim Cook continues to reshape Apple and everyone’s perception of his own legacy, his decision to come out as the first openly gay CEO of a fortune 500 company is just another revelation exemplifying his courage and spirit in the face of adversity. It is a significant moment and milestone, not just for the gay community but also for the corporate world and human race. His message is clear: we need to embrace diversity and celebrate challenges overcame by people in other minority groups every day; He is just another individual who is an expert on his job.

Tim Cook’s presence at Tsinghua University has been a force of positivity and truly provides value to the school. As students, we applaud Tim Cook’s leadership and are all extremely honored to have the opportunity to interact with him. As we look forward to his return, we just want to say, “We are proud of you and we love you, Tim!” One thing is for sure – Tim’s influence and inspiration are far reaching and his legacy just beginning.

From Michael Chen, IMBA Class of 2015


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