Apple 2021 shareholder’s meeting: Transcript of Tim Cook’s Q&A

Friend-of-the-blog John Konopka, who asked the question about Apple’s identity,  grabbed Apple’s transcript as it scrolled down the screen.

Tim Cook: Now I would like to welcome you to our live Q & A session. We know many of you have submitted questions, and we’ll try to get through just SMS we can. Let’s get into it.

The first question is, is Apple on track to meet environmental standards and take the lead on the battle against climate change?

Thanks very much for the question. Not only have we been on track, time and again we’ve actually expanded our ambitions in this area. After achieving our goal of running on entirely renewable energy in 2018, for example, we recently announced that by 2030, Apple’s carbon emissions will be 20 years before the 2050 target set by the United Nations.

It’s the same as we approach any other challenge. Innovating on climate change is not something that is the responsibility of a single team at Apple. It’s something that we do on every team. We see it as important as anything else we undertake. Not only because we believe we have to match the scale of these challenges with the scope of our ambition, but, also, because the innovations we achieve in this area helps put us ahead of the pack.

Another major goal is to one day make all of our products without extracting anything from the Earth. This was something we knew we couldn’t do overnight, but the moon shot nature of this ambition has created enormous urgency internally to do the really big thing. As a result, the product we launched last year used more recycled materials than ever before powered by groundbreaking innovations like carbon-free aluminum, and that’s been produced in the same carbon-intensive way for more than a century and milestone deployments of entirely recycled rare Earth elements in our new iPhone. This is certainly one area where we hope others will copy because every company has a role to play here.

The next question is on privacy. Why did you feel the need to speak out on privacy, and why did you feel right now was the time to do it? That’s a good question. I’ve always believed that the time to speak out is when you have something to say. We believe privacy is a fundamental human right, and we’ve always built it into everything we make from the ground up, and we don’t let the grass grow beneath our feet in this area. We’re constantly trying to move the ball forward on things like encryption, on device and new health and wellness features that protect some of your most important data because we believe innovation and privacy go hand in hand.

Most recently we have been deploying new requirements to advance user privacy in the app store. What is called the privacy nutrition label, which presents apps, data collection, and privacy practices on the app store in a way that users can understand and act on. The other is called app tracking transparency, which gives users a say over whether their data is tracked, collected, and shared with third parties by the apps they use every day. Now, some may wish to share more information for the purposes of targeted ads and others may not, but we believe deeply that users ought to be able to make the decision because, otherwise, they’re not the customer. They’re the product.

We want to be the ripple in the pond that moves the whole industry forward, but we also know that these aren’t always challenges that the private sector can address on its own. That’s why we continue to support a comprehensive federal privacy law right here in the United States and why we support new worldwide laws and international agreements that protect the fundamental right to privacy everywhere.

When you pull the lens back, at Apple we believe our goals should always be to make things that help people live better, more fulfilled, and more human lives. We see privacy as fundamental to that, and we’ll always stand up for our principles in this area.

The next question is about COVID and how Apple is responding. Apple’s headquarters was designed to create spontaneous interactions between co-workers from all different departments and that would foster ideas to blossom. During COVID, without these interactions, how is Apple adapting to continue being able to see around corners?

Well, that’s a great question, and it’s one I think about a lot. We’ve been primarily remote since March of last year. We’ve got nearly a year under our belt right now, and I would tell you we’re still learning new things. I would say that I’m incredibly impressed with our teams and their resiliency. The fact that we have had this remarkable run of innovation and creativity over the past year is a testament to their work, undertaken during a really challenging time. There’s enormous benefit to getting teams together in the office, but when the pandemic made business as usual impossible, we innovated and adapted. Sometimes we found more and better ways to collaborate across teams and reach our customers virtually. I still think there’s no substitute for meeting face-to-face, but we’ve also found that there are some things that actually work really well virtually. We’ve used this unusual time as an opportunity to help challenge the status quo. We’re developing new skills, capacity, and flexibility that will serve us incredibly well in the long run. There is nothing better for a company whose business is innovation than periodically having to figure out how to do everything in a brand new way.

Despite a global pandemic, we had one of our most prolific years ever with virtual launch events that let us share our strongest line-up of products ever with the world. At the same time we’ve used our skills to support our communities at a time of need, like our efforts to source and design millions of face masks and shields, as well as our work to scale production of more than 15 million COVID test kits since April.

But those serendipitous interactions you mentioned in your question, this depends on people running into each other over the course of the day. You can’t schedule those things. I think the vast majority of us can’t wait until we can all gather together in this office again. Right now we focus on what we do best. Investing in our product and services pipeline, managing the business wisely, and most importantly, taking care of our teams, and we believe that if we do these things well, we will come out of this stronger.

Let’s see. The next question is on political contributions. What is your policy on political contributions? That’s another good question.

Our policy on political contributions is a very simple one. We don’t make them. We don’t have a political action committee. We never have. We never will. Our approach to engagement now and always is about policy, not politics. There are places where that means we will speak up and speak out, like to defend the more than 400 dreamers that we are proud and fortunate to have on staff, and there are places where we’ll work across the spectrum to find common ground, like on promoting coding education and creating new pathways to opportunity and technology and other fields, but we’re not in the business of making political contributions, and we think that’s the right approach.

Let’s see. The next question is on Apple supply chain. What are ways in which Apple is diversifying its explain chain.

Apple’s supply chain is truly global. To that point, we have been extremely pleased with the resilience and the adaptability of our supply chain over the remarkable challenges of the past year, whether it’s here in the U.S. or anywhere around the world. We’re proud to support more than 2.7 million jobs across the U.S. and to do business with more than 9,000 suppliers right here. Looking forward, we’re continuing to make significant investments, including our five-year commitment to contribute $350 billion to the United States economy.

Now, as with any aspect of our business, we are always looking to see what improvements we can make and we will make them where appropriate. That also means investing in the next generation of engineers and innovators. That means expanding our partnerships with historically black colleges and universities, continuing to make coding education to people of all ages and backgrounds and putting millions of dollars towards venture capital investments in innovative minority-owned businesses.

Let’s see now. Next question is on M & A, mergers and acquisitions. The question is, are there any acquisitions in the future?

Well, I won’t speculate on what’s ahead of us, but I’ll note that we made 17 acquisitions in the past four years alone to accelerate our products and services road map and bring some very talented people into Apple. That works out to about one acquisition every three to four weeks. Over the past six years we’ve acquired nearly 100 companies. We’re not afraid to look at acquisitions of any size, but our priority is on valuation and strategic fit, and our focus is generally going to be on small, innovative companies exploring technologies that compliment our products and help push them forward.

The next question is on diversity and inclusion. How does Apple plan to improve on its diversity and inclusion?

Thanks for that question. It’s an important topic. As I said to our teams last summer, while we are proud of the progress we’ve made on diversity and inclusion at Apple over the past few years, the plain fact is that we have not made enough progress in hiring, developing, and supporting those from underrepresented groups who bring their talents to work every day. Especially, our Black and Brown colleagues. At the same time that we began this really significant racial equity and justice initiative externally, we’re also undertaking an expensive company-wide effort to redouble our efforts internally as well rooted in the principles of representations, inclusion, and accountability. All three of these are very important, and this is something that every team in the company has built an action plan on up to and including senior leadership. We are going to be accountable to those plans, and it’s not something that we are going to let up on. Over the past year these renewed efforts and inclusive hiring and employee development including mentorship and career rotation programs have yielded meaningful progress. During that time, 43% of open leadership positions in the United States were filled by those from underrepresented communities and globally, 37% of leadership positions were filled by women.

The next question coming up would be on Apple TV Plus and about a movie. When do you plan to release the movie CODA?

Thank you very much for that question. For those of you that don’t know CODA stands for children of deaf adults. While he don’t have anything to announce about CODA today. I have seen the film. It’s a wonderfully important film, and we will have more to say soon. Our approach to Apple TV Plus from the very beginning has been to focus on telling stories that matter. We see streaming as an arena with room for several players. We want to stand apart by lifting up high-quality content that spotlights the humanity we hold in common in all of its creativity, vulnerability, and resilience. I think you can see the strong response to that in a number of different ways, whether it’s being credible word of mouth spread for shows like “Ted Lasso” or the remarkable run of more than 240 award nominations and 70 wins that we’ve had or the mounting curiosity and enthusiasm for future content of the variety you referenced in the question.

The next question is on the app store. Are you worried about regulation forcing a change to the app store business model?

Well, in a little over a decade the app store has delivered a software revolution for users and an economic miracle for millions of entrepreneurs, creators, small businesses, and successful larger developers. Our focus now is to carry forward the success of the app store ecosystem and make it even stronger through efforts like the app store small business program which launched in January. On the bigger question, let’s take a step back here and consider a few facts. Apple doesn’t have a dominant position in any market we compete in. Not in any product category. Not in any service category. Not in software or apps. This competitive marketplace pushes all of us to be better, so while scrutiny is always fair, acquisitions like these fall apart after a reasonable examination of the facts. Since the app store launched in 2008, the IOS app economy has become one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, and the app store ecosystem now supports millions of jobs around the world. Since the store’s launch, Apple has paid out more than $200 billion to developers of all sizes. Over 500 million people visit the app store each week, and a study found that the app store facilitated over $500 billion of commerce globally in 2019 alone. More than 85% of that $500 billion accrued solely to sole proprietors. We continue to develop the app store in the future, and this investment creates significant value for developers from our trusted store environment to marketing to a secure payment system to cutting-edge tools like compilers and operating systems and more than 250,000 essential software building blocks called APIs.

Our approach also puts user trust at the center. Users can have faith that we have the highest standards and prioritize quality, privacy, security, and the convenience of features like a secure in-app purchase system. We review each app before it can be downloaded by users. As I said at the outset of the question, scrutiny is reasonable, but the facts point in a single direction here. That the app store is innovative, dynamic, good for users, and its best days are still ahead of it. Thanks very much for the question.

The next question, let’s see, is on pay equity. What plans are in place to insure that all employees are paid equitably? For example, are women in the same roles as men? Are people of color in the same position paid the same or comparable amount? What is the plan to fix this issue, and over what time period?

Well, pay equity at Apple is a very successful model that we can and do look to. We have achieved gender pay equity in every country in which we operate globally women and men are performing similar work with comparable performance. Within the United States, employees from underrepresented communities earn $1 for every $1 that white employees earn. This is something we examine every year, and we make changes where we need to in order to preserve it. Worldwide, we have stopped asking candidates about their salary history as another tool to help level the playing field we’re proud of how we’ve been recognized here, but we’re also vigilant on every front about what more we can be doing.

Let’s see. The next question is on education. The question is, will Apple promote education outside the United States?

Absolutely. We believe education is the great equalizer, and that’s true everywhere around the globe. In my pre-COVID travels, I’ve gotten to meet students everywhere from Beijing to Berlin and everywhere I go these young people are passionate about solving big problems, and they recognize technology’s potential to help us do that. Worldwide, we support efforts like coding education from the primary school level, expanding opportunity to technology education and career pathways and opportunities for adult education in high-tech fields. Given the additional challenges that COVID-19 has posesed for teachers, parents, and educators around the world, we have taken new steps to help students keep learning during this unprecedented time, providing free tools and FRaNK reaching over 150,000 teachers and millions of parents of students around the world. This is an area of great passion for us, and we’ve done a lot in the past, and we anticipate doing even more in the future.

Let’s see. Next question is on Apple’s dividend. The question is why don’t you increase your dividend more?

Well, our primary focus is on long-term value. That said, we’re proud of our record as one of the largest dividend payers in the world. In the last four quarters dividends total over $14 billion, and since we reinitiated the dividend in August of 2012, our dividend per share has more than doubled. We think that’s a strong statement about our commitment to growing shareholder income over time, and we plan for annual dividend increases, but we don’t think that dividends are the only way that we can create value for shareholders. A much more important one in our view is continuing to invest in innovation and in the technological breakthroughs that will drive apple’s next generation of success. Thanks very much for that question.

Next question. Thank you, Tim, for watching over and taking care of our beloved employees throughout the pandemic. We shareholders and Nashville are so happy to see Green Hills finally reopen.

Thank you for your support for our Apple retail stores. Our incredible retail teams in Nashville and everywhere, have been innovative, agile, and adaptive through COVID-19. Our very first priority is keeping everyone safe and healthy so that we can continue to serve our customers in every way. We look forward to reopening our stores in more places employ building in the remarkable in-person and online representation that Apple retail has made throughout COVID-19. In our customers in Nashville, all I’ll say is that we should have even more good news for you soon.

The next question sounds like a long-time shareholder. Could you give us your description of Apple’s identity. It’s been a long time since it was Apple Computer? Who is Apple now? How do we see Apple in relation to society moving forward?

That’s a great question. In so many ways the world has changed, but I think in some really fundamental ways, Apple has not. Apple is made up of people who want to spend their lives making things that enrich the lives of others that, make them more creative, more fulfilled. We want to do things that make us proud because life is too short to do anything else. In practice, that means being comfortable saying no to a lot of things and staying laser-focused on the areas where we know we can have the greatest impact. It means innovating relentlessly and working together across teams without pride or ego and thinking really deeply about both the opportunities and the consequences of the things we make Apple is about technology made by people and for people and with people’s well-being in mind. At its best and most hopeful, technology should help us leave the world better than we found it.

Next question, what will the impact of new stimulus measures be on the business?

That’s an interesting question. I think the first priority of any stimulus should be about helping people, and while I’m not an economist or a forecaster, making sure people get support during challenging times like this is critical. The priority should be a stimulus that helps people support small business and lays the foundation for equitable economic growth.

The next question is on the really awful weather in Texas. What are your thoughts on the severe cold weather impacting Texas and many other states across the country? What has been the impact on Apple?

Well, first and foremost, our thoughts are with everyone in Texas and across the United States who have been impacted, including many of our team members. As I have said previously, Apple will be donating to support relief organizations on the ground and our people and global security team are staying in close contact with our affected employees and offering our support.

To see so many people lose power or access to clean water, the devastation is very real, on par with what you see from some earthquakes or hurricanes. Extreme weather events like this are only becoming more frequent. In the longer-term, I think it will be absolutely crucial to make sure that we have the strongest possible systems in place to limit the damage these events can do. From prevention and forward planning to relief efforts on the ground to investments in energy systems that are equal parts renewable and resilient. Looks like

I’ve got time for one additional question. Let’s see what we’ve got here. It’s another interesting question.

What do you see as the most challenging obstacle ahead for 2021?

Well, frankly, I don’t see obstacles so much as opportunities. Make no mistake, it’s opportunities that we’ll have to manage creatively, intelligently, and diligently as a business. We’re not taking them for granted. Really, we’re excited about them. Looking across the product line-up, I don’t think we’ve ever had a better set of products with a greater degree of future potential. Whether you look at the first iteration of the iPhone or getting one chip in the hands of our users, and the remarkable ability of the Apple Watch to look out for your health, and the way that all of these devices are deeply integrated with a software that brings them to life and a growing portfolio of services that our users love and depend on. Almost a year ago at the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, I said that I don’t think there’s ever been a more challenging environment in which we’ve operated Apple as a business. A year later I do think you have to pause and say, wow. The degree to which all of our teams everywhere across the globe pull together, rose to the occasion, helped each other through it, I don’t think you could hope for more than that. You certainly couldn’t ask for it. So after the year we have all gone through, I am greatly optimistic about the future, and for all of us at Apple, we’re thinking deeply, as always, about how we can help our communities emerge from this stronger, how recovery from this pandemic can be fair and equitable, and how all of that can be helped by a world class technology that puts our humanity at its heart.

On that note, I want to thank you all for joining us and for all of your questions. On behalf of all of us at Apple, we look forward to your continued engagement and to seeing you next year. Thanks, and enjoy the rest of your day.

NOTE: I’ve asked Apple PR for a transcript of Cook’s prepared remarks.

9 Comments

  1. Thank you, John. With very little hearing remaining, I really appreciate transcripts, CC and Apple Air Pod Pros. Hearing aids or cochlear implants don’t really work at this level of tinnitus & overall loss. Lip reading is tough for me on Zoom.
    Several analysts have suggested there’s a floor at 120. It sure looks that way so far today. Buyback turbine fired up before Annual Mtg or what?
    ” I don’t see obstacles so much as opportunities.” – T. Cook
    Agreed. Buddha once said something to the effect that when you tell me my faults you are giving me a handful of jewels.

    5
    February 23, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      With very little hearing remaining, I really appreciate transcripts, CC and Apple Air Pod Pros.

      I can attest to Air Pod Pros. I got mine yesterday, set them up, and tried them on. All I can say is WoW. I made and received phone calls, listened to music, watched a movie on my iPad and Apple TV 4K, and listened to a Podcast.

      It was on a phone call with my daughter that I realized just how bad my hearing had gotten. With the Air Pod Pro, I could hear her so much clearer it was shocking. I wore them continuously for 11 hours with no nasty ear compression side effects.

      Several analysts have suggested there’s a floor at 120.

      Today’s intraday low was $118.39. Volume to that point was in line with yesterday’s volume. Since then AAPL has been on a tear (intraday high $126.71 UP from low $8.32) with higher volume than any day since January 29, and there’s still 30 minutes to go before the session Close.

      I think this sell-off is over. I don’t know how rapidly AAPL will regain $145, but I believe it won’t go lower from here.

      4
      February 23, 2021
      • Gregg Thurman said:
        I track the delta between intraday low and high, noting AAPL’s direction at the Close. With the Close upon us, today’s gap is greater than any we/ve experienced since earnings, and the direction is refreshingly UP.

        4
        February 23, 2021
      • Mark Visnic said:
        @Gregg

        Agreed. ”
        “I think this sell-off is over. I don’t know how rapidly AAPL will regain $145, but I believe it won’t go lower from here.”

        At worst, it retests but, I doubt it. The big down open was the first clue that we had a chance for a reversal today, especially after yesterday’s collapse.

        2
        February 23, 2021
      • Roger Schutte said:
        Gregg, I heard on a podcast recently that there are Apps you can use to test and then adjust frequencies of the sound through AirPods. Meaning, you might be able to improve things at the frequencies you’ve lost.

        1
        February 24, 2021
        • Thanks for this tip, Roger. My $6,000 prescription hearing aids must be adjusted by an audiologist. Their noise cancelling does not begin to approach the capabilities of AirPods Pro. Hearing aid regulations have changed, I truly believe Apple is already revolutionizing devices for the millions suffering from hearing loss. Apps for AirPods, yea!!

          0
          February 24, 2021
  2. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    John, Thank you for your thoughtful question and for capturing the Q&A. Philip, Thank you for posting the content. Very good questions, awesome answers. Tim Cook demonstrated a real command of each topic covered. Apple is in very good and capable hands, in my view.

    3
    February 23, 2021
    • John Konopka said:
      It’s a personal goal of mine to think up a good question that Tim will address. This is my third question that Tim has answered over the years. It irks me that given the chance to talk to the CEO of a giant company so many people come up with trivial questions. One year a girl complained about a broken iPhone. Another year someone complained about Apple’s lack of support for education. They could have found out in advance how much Apple donate’s to education.

      It is interesting to note that this year most of the questions answered were submitted in advance. This means Tim had time to come up with a well thought out answer, also that Tim could use these to communicate what he wanted to by choosing the appropriate question.

      3
      February 23, 2021
  3. John, I’ve been privileged to ask questions during annual mtgs of several major European firms I’ve invested over the years. I consider my question well in-advance and at least once that I know of, stirred up quite a hornet’s nest with the answer I elicited. It was an environmental question at Norway’s Statoil conference.

    0
    February 24, 2021

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