Private Lives and Corporate America: Apple CEO Tim Cook Reveals he is Gay

by Matt Klassen on November 5, 2014

I, for one, have never equated the Apple brand with tolerance or openness. In fact, I’ve long seen the technological empire Steve Jobs created as draconian, totalitarian, and dictatorial, exerting an ironclad grip on its self-contained ecosystem and dictating everything about the production, manufacturing, marketing, and sales of its products; control unrivalled in the history of the tech industry. But then current Apple CEO Tim Cook did something I never would have expected a CEO, let alone an Apple CEO, to do, he was honest about his private life, announcing earlier this week that he is gay. But was this the right course of action?

While many support Cook’s decision, I don’t think anyone needs a reminder of just how polarizing the concomitant issues of sexual orientation and gay marriage are, as we’ve seen CEOs ousted over relatively innocuous revelations that they might oppose such lifestyles, to other CEOs like Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy simply trumpeting his anti-gay stance from the rooftops of his restaurants. In fact, it can be dangerous game to expose one’s private life in the public sphere, particularly when you’re the head of the most profitable technology company in the world, as the last thing most company’s want, certainly the last thing Steve Jobs ever wanted, is for consumer to focus on the people behind the products.

So while I applaud Cook for the courage it took to reveal these personal details, I still find myself wondering if this was the right course of action, knowing that a large percentage of Apple’s fan base may not be as tolerant of Cook’s sexual orientation as perhaps they should be (I’m talking to you Russia!)

Before you lambaste me for encouraging Cook to stay “in the closet” as it were, my only point is that I find myself questioning the wisdom of CEOs revealing details of their personal lives, whatever those details may be. Should Cook be true to himself with his friends and family and whomever else he may have a significant relationship with? Most certainly. Does that sort of relationship extend to every Apple customer in the world? It most certainly does not.

Now perhaps you’re response is that its better for Cook to be true to himself than it is to make money, and on a certain level, you’re absolutely right. If Cook felt that Apple created an environment inconducive or unwelcoming to who he is or what he believes, then I would applaud him for taking a stand and leaving the company, choosing to respect himself instead of collect his big fat paycheck.

But in the technology industry, as the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook is not an individual per se, but the face of an entity much larger than himself, and as we’ve seen with Brendan Eich at Mozilla with his controversial support of an anti-gay marriage group, to Google’s Eric Schmidt and his revelation of his open marriage, when leaders of company’s introduce their personal lives into their corporate lives it tends to be a polarizing experience for consumers.

So thinking about this from the viewpoint of Apple as a corporation, what has made the Cupertino Company so successful is its ability to reach the masses, regardless of what political, religious, or ethical viewpoints those people may hold. Apple sells to the tolerant and intolerant alike, to capitalists and communists alike, to atheists and theists and everyone in between, and it does so because the only stance it takes is that it hates everyone equally err… I mean, that it refuses to engage in any such taboo topics.

Its neutrality coupled with its marketing is what has allowed it to reach across the globe, and with Tim Cook’s revelation, I fear that neutrality is now gone. Now I am curious to see what impact this will have on Apple’s sales, as the company has put some of its consumers at least, in a moral bind: maintain their intolerance or feed their Apple craving.

In the end let me say that for once I’m thankful that a personal revelation from a corporate CEO is not something embarrassing, and if peoples’ love for Apple products actually motivates them to analyze their bigotry and intolerance, well then perhaps kudos to Cook are in order. But it may still be just as unwise to announce such details, from a corporate perspective at least, as now the faceless Apple who has been able to sell to anyone and everyone has taken a stance on a contentious issue, and there will be some (like Russia), unfortunately, who won’t like what this new Apple looks like.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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