What would you do, as the owner of a company, if the manager you hired to run it rebuked your desire for the highest return on investment? Imagine that you approach your manager with concerns about his performance, and he tells you to stop worrying so much about profit.
Apple CEO Tim Cook did precisely that in a meeting with stockholders at the company’s Cupertino headquarters. Mashable reports on the confrontation with a group of stockholders objecting to Cook’s wasteful spending on environmental initiatives:
“We do a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive,” the CEO said:
We do things because they are right and just and that is who we are. That’s who we are as a company. I don’t…when I think about human rights, I don’t think about an ROI. When I think about making our products accessible for the people that can’t see or to help a kid with autism, I don’t think about a bloody ROI, and by the same token, I don’t think about helping our environment from an ROI point of view.
Anyone who had a problem with that approach? They should sell their Apple shares. “If you only want me to make things, make decisions that have a clear ROI, then you should get out of the stock,” Cook said to applause.
Emphasis should be placed on that applause. Stockholders went on to vote down a proposal to halt environmental efforts which hurt the company’s bottom line. In other words, stockholders voted against making money.
The episode evokes comparisons to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the character of James Taggart, heir to a railroad company who squanders his inherited wealth on altruistic efforts which ruin both his company and the national economy. Like Cook, Taggart believes business should be motivated by more than profit. Like Cook, Taggart believes business holds some responsibility to help people.