The short answer: He never joined. The long answer: It’s complicated.
You won’t see Tim Cook joining the parade of CEOs who have quit on Donald Trump over Charlottesville. “At the end of the day,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek’s Megan Murphy in June. “I’m not a person who’s going to walk away and say, “’If you don’t do what I want, I leave.'”
Cook had the foresight to be too busy last December to join the president-elect’s Strategic and Policy Forum, and he’s ducked every Presidential council since. Yet he has appeared in photo ops, sitting next to or one Thiel away from a man whose ideas about so many things he must find abhorrent.
Cook’s grip on Apple’s talent has never been as strong as Steve Jobs’ and he has held his army together, in part, by his moral leadership—by coming out as gay and by taking principled stances on privacy, on encryption, on immigration, on the environment, on race.
A source at Apple in a position to know tells me that for Cook there’s a difference between joining a council and participating in a White House brainstorming session, like the one that yielded this photo:
It’s a distinction both sides find useful. Trump is happy to pose with Cook and use Apple’s shiny example as evidence of the success of his presidency, taking credit for three big, beautiful plants Apple never announced, never mind built.
Cook, for his part, gets to hold the high moral ground without losing sight of his fiduciary responsibilities. Apple, after all, has a few sticks in this fire. The biggest, in fact: nearly a quarter trillion dollars in profits parked overseas waiting for Trump’s promised tax holiday.
It’s not easy walking the tightrope between the world’s most valuable company and the most business-friendly administration since Bush. Especially when that administration is always teetering on the brink of one thing or another.