Apple CEO Tim Cook Talks Transparency, $100M U.S. Mac Manufacturing Investment, Forstall, Maps And More

In one of the most candid, and certainly most extensive interviews with Apple CEO Tim Cook on record, Bloomberg Businessweek today got the executive to open up about Apple and discuss some of the recent hot button issues facing his company. The result is an incredible look behind the curtain at the operating principles of the man who took over for Steve Jobs, which provides some terrific insight into many of the decisions he’s made while in charge. Cook dishes on Maps, executive changes, overall management style, and making Macs in the U.S.A.

Changes: Transparency and Giving Back

Cook begins by discussing some of the differences between Apple during his tenure and the company before, starting right off with a quote from Jobs where he told Cook he “never want[s hims] to ask what I would have done,” which became the fashionable thing for analysts and tech writers to do when looking at Cook’s decisions since. The Apple CEO then goes on to discuss his policy changes, including a push for greater transparency and more charitable efforts on the company’s behalf.

“We decided being more transparent about some things is great—not that we were not transparent at all before, but we’ve stepped it up in places where we think we can make a bigger difference, where we want people to copy us,” Cook said in the interview. He added:

I think that Apple and Apple’s employees have done enormous good and can do even more. One of the things that we have done is match our employees’ charitable contributions, where they select who they want to give to. So it’s not some corporate committee deciding, but it’s our 80,000 employees deciding what they want to do, and then we match it.

Secrecy is still important to the company’s governance, Cook said, but there are areas where transparency – complete transparency – made more sense, to help the company make bigger differences. And the employee donation matching program was most recently employed to help out victims of Sandy in NYC.

Scott Forstall’s Departure: All About Collaboration

Cook was asked by Businessweek about executive shifts at the company, including the departure of Scott Forstall. He responded by talking about collaboration, something he called one of Apple’s core values, and something he said was lacking before those changes were made:

The key in the change that you’re referencing is my deep belief that collaboration is essential for innovation—and I didn’t just start believing that. I’ve always believed that. It’s always been a core belief at Apple. Steve very deeply believed this.So the changes—it’s not a matter of going from no collaboration to collaboration. We have an enormous level of collaboration in Apple, but it’s a matter of taking it to another level… You have to be an A-plus at collaboration. And so the changes that we made get us to a whole new level of collaboration.

While Cook framed it more as a question of realigning other executives and business areas to emphasize collaboration, it also seems clear from The CEO’s omission of Forstall that he may have been a barrier in the way of that goal.

U.S. Mac Manufacturing: A $100 Million Investment in 2013

Apple will be moving some of its Mac manufacturing to the U.S., going beyond just assembly, Cooks told Businessweek. He reminded the publication that in fact the engine and processor for the iPad and iPhone are made in the U.S., but also commented that in 2013 there will be a much more “substantial” effort to make Macs in the U.S., potentially working with manufacturing partners (“this doesn’t mean that Apple will do it ourselves,” he said) via a $100 million investment in a U.S.-based production process.

We’ve already seen some of the most recent iMacs ship with an “Assembled in U.S.A.” label, so this program is at least in part already underway. Hopefully we get more information on how extensive the endeavor is next year, maybe during Apple’s first quarterly conference call in calendar 2013.

Maps: A Customer Experience Play That Backfired

Cook addressed accusations that Maps was all about making a smart business decision that led to a weaker user experience in the interview. Many suspected that the reason behind removing Google Maps from the iPhone was that Apple felt the search giant had too much influence on its platform. Cook said that isn’t the case, suggesting doing their own maps app was the only way to get a few things done on the consumer side of the experience:

The reason we did Maps is we looked at this, and we said, “What does the customer want? What would be great for the customer?” We wanted to provide the customer turn-by-turn directions. We wanted to provide the customer voice integration. We wanted to provide the customer flyover. And so we had a list of things that we thought would be a great customer experience, and we couldn’t do it any other way than to do it ourselves.

That said, he conceded that it did indeed backfire, and that Maps lived up to no one’s expectations – including the company’s own. But it has been reported that Google and Apple couldn’t agree on terms to include turn-by-turn in its app on iOS, since Google was asking for more access to user data than Apple was willing to give, so Cook’s statements definitely seem genuine in light of that.

These are just a few of the issues Cook touched on, sketched out for interest’s sake. But the full article is definitely worth a read, as Businessweek’s Josh Tyrangiel did a great job of essentially asking Cook all the questions that have been asked about him in the media since he took over as Apple CEO, including, in a roundabout way, whether or not he’s the emotionless robot executive stories often make him out to be.