Tim Cook on RoI

VentureBeat had a nice article yesterday on Tim Cook becoming the Silicon Valley’s conscience with his stand on various important social issues. There was one anecdote that stood out –

In March 2013, I was in Cupertino for Apple’s annual shareholder meeting. After 18 months leading Apple, Cook had been feeling some heat from investors over the stock’s performance. During the meeting, Justin Danhof, director of the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project, had criticized Apple for its connection to industry groups that believe global warming is caused by human activity. At one point, Danhof confronted Cook and asked him to commit to only taking on projects that help the environment or fulfill other social justice aims if they directly benefit Apple’s bottom line.

Cook, clearly trying to remain calm, shot back: “When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI [return on investment]. When I think about doing the right thing, I don’t think about an ROI.”

Cook then offered his own bottom line to Danhof, or any other critic, one which perfectly sums up his belief that social and political and moral leadership are not antithetical to running a business. “If that’s a hard line for you,” Cook continued, “then you should get out of the stock.”

In our push to hold people accountable to something measurable, we’ve long attached ourselves to metrics such as returns to the shareholder, RoI, etc.

All that’s good and very important – especially when you are starting out. But, once you are solvent and reasonably successful, it is your responsibility to work on projects that create long term good in the world. If not you, then who? The RoI may not be as good as an existing project that sells something to people who don’t fundamentally need it. But, it doesn’t matter. Just because an RoI is easily measured doesn’t mean it is right to measure it at every excuse.

Some of the most valuable things we do are things that aren’t easily measured and that can’t easily be quantified.

Thank you for showing us the way, Tim.

RoI, Apple, Tim Cook