Tim Cook Makes Waves, Creates Ripple Effect

Apple's sales may lag a bit following CEO Tim Cook's public announcement that he's gay -- but Apple doesn't care. Cook has the full support of the company's board of directors and, it appears, pretty much everyone else in Silicon Valley. As for elsewhere, this could be a valuable lesson for some. "What Cook did is heroic and will immeasurably benefit the human race," said tech analyst Rob Enderle.

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Thursday publicly proclaimed he is gay, in an essay published in Bloomberg Businessweek.

While his sexual orientation isn’t news, his strong acknowledgment sparked a wave of discussions on the Internet and drew kudos from his Silicon Valley peers and others.

“My first reaction was, ‘It’s 2014, so what? So many other famous people have come out as gay, why does one more matter?” said technology journalist Mitch Wagner.

“But I was wrong,” he told the E-Commerce Times. Cook’s revelation “is important in that it further removes the stigma of homosexuality, particularly for young men and women struggling with their identity.”

The impact of Cook’s statement on Apple’s image and business, however, has become a topic of fierce debate.

What Cook Said

“I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me,” Cook wrote.

Being gay has been “tough and uncomfortable at times,” but it gave him the confidence to be himself and has “also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple,” he added.

“If hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy,” said Cook.

Kudos, Huzzahs and a Painful Dash of Reality

“What Cook did is heroic and will immeasurably benefit the human race, which is far too intolerant at the moment,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Cook’s essay may “convince business leaders or decision makers who have a bias against homosexuals to re-examine their policies and beliefs,” John Gray, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told the E-Commerce Times. “Cook is advocating for a minority group — one that has felt a lot of pain.”

“In 29 states, LGBT workers can still be fired just for their sexual orientation,” Paul Song, executive chairman of the Courage Campaign, told the E-Commerce Times after applauding Cook’s action.

“The Republican Party is still blocking the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect the thousands of LGBT workers who still face discrimination in the workplace every day,” Song added.

LGBTs in the Enterprise

Cook is not alone in being the openly gay head of a large corporation.

Among the others: Nick Denton, founder and publisher of Gawker Media Group; Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment; and Robert Hanson, CEO of John Hardy.

Hanson, formerly global brand president at Levi’s, wrote a piece on being gay and a CEO, which was published Aug. 15 in TIME.

American corporations increasingly are offering same-sex benefits, and more than 100 businesses joined a coalition calling on Congress to pass the ENDA.

In November, Cook penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal titled “Workplace Equality is Good for Business,” in support of ENDA.

However, discrimination still exists, and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in September filed suit against two companies essentially for discriminating against transgender employees by firing them because of their sexual orientation.

Will Apple Be Hurt?

Cook’s article “will be a drag on sales,” Enderle told the E-Commerce Times. “Apple largely sells to an older demographic which isn’t known for tolerance. However, Apple’s brand will now be held up as supporting tolerance, and many will likely choose it because their identity is closely coupled with their beloved Apple product.”

On the other hand, “from the polling and survey numbers I’ve seen, younger consumers … by and large represent a sizable proportion of Apple’s customers,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Younger people “see homosexuality as far less of a stigma than their parents and grandparents. The customers Apple cares about are far less likely to care about Cook’s sexual orientation,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Cook’s statement is “unlikely to change the demand for Apple products,” agreed Challenger — “or affect its bottom line.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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