Apple CEO and Fuqua Alum Tim Cook Talks Leadership at Duke
May 29, 2013
"Explore everything. Push the corners of your mind. Just get on this kind of continual learning roller coaster and see what happens."
This was among the advice Apple CEO Tim Cook shared with students at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business on April 26th. Back on campus for his 25-year reunion, Cook took part in an hour-long dialogue with Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding and the students in a jam-packed Geneen Auditorium buzzing with excitement to hear from the leader of the world's most profitable company.
The Apple CEO has embarked on a career far different than he had envisioned after graduating from Fuqua's Evening Executive MBA program in 1988. "For me the journey was not predictable at all. You have to find your own north star and stay with your north star."
As 450 Daytime MBA students prepared to graduate, Cook advised the students to heed Abraham Lincoln's words of wisdom: "I will prepare and someday my chance will come."
Cook shared the three keys to his leadership at Apple: people, strategy, and execution. "If you get those three right the world is a great place."
Students were able to get a unique glimpse into Cook's motivation, inspiration and leadership role models. Raised in the south and a witness to racial injustice, Cook described his admiration for Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Junior's bravery in risking their lives to fight for what they believed in. He has just three photos in his office: two of Kennedy and one of King.
Cook was asked when to follow strict principles of business theory and when to break the rules. His response stressed the importance of risks and learning from failure. "You should rarely follow the rules. What Fuqua teaches you so well is how to learn and how to collaborate. Write your own rules."
This message resonated with first-year MBA student Shelby Hall. "I know this follows Steve Jobs' belief that Apple creates products which consumers didn't ever know existed," she said. "It was interesting to hear Tim Cook's perspective on how we should balance writing our own rules while applying the foundations of business taught here at Fuqua."
Cook also spoke about some of his recollections from Fuqua. "The people made it an incredible experience. It was great for me to see how bright people approached solutions in different ways."
First-year MBA student Juan Danzilo says Cook's willingness to share his experiences shows a deep commitment to Fuqua. "Tim Cook's presence reflects Fuqua's sense of community. His humility and eloquence is admirable. It certainly was a unique opportunity for MBA students to hear from such an inspirational leader."
Watch excerpts from his speech here.