Apple CEO Tim Cook: ‘We want to continue to grow’ in Austin

Posted September 1st, 2017

Austin has become extremely important to the future of Apple.

Apple, the world’s largest consumer electronics company, now has about 6,000 employees in Austin, making it the company’s second-largest U.S. hub outside of its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.

Apple spent several years building a 38-acre campus on West Parmer Lane in Northwest Austin. The campus, which is responsible for running the company’s business operations in the Northern Hemisphere, features seven office buildings with a combined 1.1 million square feet.

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently made a visit to Austin to stop by the company’s new complex here, meet with employees and announce a new educational partnership with Austin Community College.


During his visit, Cook sat down for a one-on-one interview with the American-Statesman about Apple’s investment in Austin, its growth plans here — and even some thoughts about interacting with the Trump administration.

American-Statesman: Let’s start by talking about Apple’s Austin campus. This is your first visit here since 2014, when the Apple campus was still in construction phase. Now the campus is completed and you’re expanding your presence here. How would you describe how Austin ties into Apple and its future?

Tim Cook: This our 25th year so we’re celebrating a quarter century. We’re going to have a bit of a party this afternoon. We’ve started with 100 people back in 92. Now we’re at over 6,000 and if you look at the teams, they include customer support, online sales, retail sales, we have our Maps team here, and finance and a huge engineering team that’s growing fast. Literally, many, many pieces of our company are here. The team here is a very critical part of our company, and we’ve been very happy here. Over the years during hard times and great times and all times, we have always wanted to grow here, and we want to continue to grow here.

You’ve made this multimillion-dollar investment. Why Austin?

There’s many reasons. One is that the people here are great. We’re a people business, we’re not a brick and mortar kind of business. We spend a lot of money on facilities, and so forth, but at the end of the day, we are about people. The people in Austin are great. We’re looking at more things and what more things could be here. And of course the present teams here will continue to grow.

In terms of why Austin, the talent is the first one. The local government has been really helpful, great to work with. You can kind of see that in some of the stuff we did… with (Austin Community College.) the ACC. We feel very strongly that everyone should learn how to code. It should become a requirement in schools. That’s never going to be legislated, I don’t think. But we should do our part to influence it and our part to make it possible.

And for us we decided that was about the creation of the (computer) language itself that would be easy to use. Like the iPhone, so you didn’t have to be a computer scientist or the desire to be to computer coder. So for us it was about creating the curriculum. We know that like all of us teachers are busy every day so we don’t necessarily get a chance to develop something new. So we wanted to take care of all of that including the training of teachers.

This year we’re really proud to extend it to community colleges and we think Austin is a fantastic place to make that extension because the local government is behind startups, you have Capital Factory downtown, which is unbelievable. The number of different companies and how they wind up helping and guiding people. So that arm is going well. Entrepreneurial startups can get going, having a support structure so you’re not having to create everything yourself. Or solve every problem yourself. I saw super examples of that at Capital Factory.

You also have businesses here that in some way shape or form, almost every one of them need mobile apps. Either to present their products to customers as a customer front-end or running the company itself, whether they’re an enterprise or a medium or small business. We’re living on mobile apps now. They’ve become essential and mobile apps also take care of us in terms of health, most of our banking is done on mobile apps. It’s like everybody needs them, and literally the demand has so far outstripped the supply.

The reason we chose community colleges was because as we studied it. We knew that first, we had missed a lot of kids in school. We’ve got Playgrounds (a coding program popular with secondary schools), but a lot of kids went through school and never had access to coding. And community colleges have a diverse population, so this is also a way to help change diversity in technology. It’s a nice intersection of several things we’re passionate about, and we found in ACC, in the mayor, sort of kindred spirits. People who really want to focus on lifting other people up and bringing technology to people who perhaps haven’t gotten the benefits of it.

In terms of your Austin operations, the vast majority of positions now are support, operations, here on this campus. What are the possibilities of adding more development jobs here?

Only a little over 50 percent are between customer support and online sales. You have 10 to 15 percent in engineering, 10 to 15 percent in operations. Finance is probably a bit less. We’re going to continue growing here. Two things are clear: One is the University of Texas and other universities in the area, and now ACC, are great at preparing people for the workforce. So you have an incredible education system here. That’s obviously key.

The second thing is people want to live here. It’s a quality of life that people enjoy. I am sure there are some problems and so forth that as local member of the community that you see, but on a macro basis, Austin is a very beloved city that people want to live in. And that’s key. You want people to be happy.

What role does affordability play? Your employees here can buy houses with a reasonable commute, unlike many workers in Silicon Valley.

That’s right, the Bay Area has gotten beyond stratospheric. Whatever the word is, there needs to be a new word.

There are incredible people there, but we have a sizable population there. I think it’s great to be in other places to also attract talent from those places. Also I like the geographic diversity. Part of having an open company and a diverse group is not only the things people see in terms of diversity, but it’s also the life experiences. Part of life experience is geographic. So I think being in Austin provides us with a lot of that in an environment where we feel welcome.

Speaking of building diversity, following Charlottesville, you were among the CEOs to speak out to employees directly. Why did you do that and how are you going to move forward?

I felt that. I knew how I felt personally. I was deeply disturbed and a number of employees had reached out to me who were also deeply disturbed by what they saw in Charlottesville.

Of course my background might make me even more sensitive to that. I was born in the South and saw the affects of racial discrimination and tension and this white supremacy thing affects not only the people at the time but it affects people for generations. It’s a generational issue. So I have a very strong view here that you have to call it out. You have to do everything you can to stomp it out. Because anything short of that it’s allowed to grow. I tried to say that in that note.

We’re trying to do what we can do to help. We’re constantly asking ourselves are we doing enough. In terms of speaking out versus not speaking out, I think each person has to make their own decision about what they think is right. For us, it’s about our values as a company. From the very beginning of Apple, Apple was about giving power to people. Taking power from the large enterprises and governments and so forth that could afford huge amounts of technology and giving it to the individual so the individual could do unbelievable things. Create things they couldn’t create. To heal, to teach, to learn.

Arguably, in order for that kind of environment to take place, you have to have a view of how important equality is. You can’t start with a view that this group is better somehow than this group. And so we’ve been very proud of our stance and feel an incredible responsibility to tell people how we view that. We also speak out on environmental issues, we want to leave the world better than we found it. We think that’s a very important part of how companies should behave. So we have a set of things. We don’t speak out on everything. But we have a set of things that are so deeply ingrained in us as people and in us as a company that we think we should speak out.

You mentioned President Donald Trump directly in your letter. How do you see working with the administration, which has pushed back against globalization? Apple is the opposite of that. You have one of the largest global reaches in the world.

I disagreed with his remarks. From what I saw and from what I know in my past, there’s nothing equal to white supremacy there’s nothing. There’s nothing equal to that. So I felt a strong responsibility to say that.

What about the Trump administration’s relationship with business? How will that affect you moving forward?

I think everyone might answer that differently so I don’t want to answer it for all business. The way I look at things, would be we have a responsibility to help America. We do that through a variety of ways, we try to bring jobs to people, we try to help in education, we try to help with the environment. But the most important thing we do is make products so other people can do amazing things because that’s much larger frankly than anything we could do on our own.

That stays the same no matter who is in the Senate or in the House or in the White House. It’s sort of regardless of politics. So the question for us is always can we help America and how do we best do that? That question’s the same as it was a week ago, a month ago, a few years ago, five years ago. That’s how I view that.

Erich Schlegel/American-StatesmanApple CEO Tim Cook, right, signs an autograph while visiting the company's Austin campus on Aug. 25.