‘I’m a product of a public school education’: Tim Cook and his rise to Apple CEO

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Tim Cook has spoken out about how education helped him to get where he is today. Source: Roberto Schmidt/AFP

Where would many of us be without our iPhones and iPads today? 

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, took the company from his parent’s garage to become one of the most significant, game-changing conglomerates ever known.

Let’s not forget Timothy Donald Cook, more fondly known as Tim Cook.

When Jobs succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2011, Cook stepped up as CEO of Apple. 

Here, he shifted Apple’s focus from being a prominent tech innovator to caring for the environment, improving factory working conditions, and implementing health measures

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Cook has come a long way since his time as a student at Auburn University in Alabama. Source: Roberto Schmidt/AFP

Early life in Alabama

Born in the small town of Robertsdale, Alabama, Cook was the middle of three sons to a shipyard worker father and a homemaker mother. 

He went to Robertsdale High School. Soon after, the Apple CEO graduated in 1982 with a Bachelor of Industrial and Systems Engineering from Auburn University in Alabama. 

Later, he would earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Cook excelled at university and was awarded the title “Fuqua Scholar“, an honorary term given to students who graduate in the top 10 of their class.

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Upon graduation, Cook worked at IBM, Compaq Computer Corporation, and Apple. Source: Brendan Smialowski/AFP

Moving up the ranks

With an MBA in hand, he embarked on the start of his lucrative career in computer technology. 

Since Cook has an excellent academic track record, he was hired by IBM, the multinational technology corporation.

During his 12-year stint at IBM, Cook moved up the ranks to become the North American fulfilment director. 

Here, he managed the manufacturing and distribution functions for IBM’s Personal Computer Company for the North and Latin Americas.

In 1994, Cook became a chief operating officer at the Reseller Division at Intelligent Electronics and joined Compaq Computer Corporation. 

However, the Alabama-born graduate would only stay for six months before he found himself at the doorsteps of Apple, where he would take on the role of vice president. 

“My most significant discovery so far in my life was the result of one single decision: My decision to join Apple,” says Cook during his commencement speech at Auburn University. 

It wasn’t as easy as it seemed at the time. He joined the company in 1998 — before the iconic iPhone, iPod, or iPad was invented.

In fact, the company had been consistently losing money and was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1997.

A year after Cooked joined Apple, the company started reporting profits and was soon raking in the big bucks. 

Backed by his success in turning the company around, Cook took on the executive vice president role, managed worldwide sales, led the Macintosh division, and fostered the development of reseller and supplier relationships. 

Tim Cook

Tim Cook has brought many changes to Apple since he took over. Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America

“I’m a product of a public school education”

Despite a trail of successes behind him, he never shied away from the fact that he was a product of the public school system. 

“Education is everything to me. It is the foundation that I was able to do everything afterwards, including this job now,” Cook shares during the FIRST Inspire 2022 Gala

“I was very fortunate to have parents that put emphasis on education. I was very fortunate to have teachers that cared enough to push a little harder, to do a little bit more than you think you could.” 

He adds: “It is the combination of all these things that made me who I am.” 

In Cook’s words, education is the great equaliser of people as “it gives everybody an equal chance.” 

Cook is also a known philanthropist and gives away millions to charities. 

A few years ago, he announced that Apple would team up with education activist Malala Yousafzai to extend the foundation’s reach to empower young girls globally through education. 

The company would provide the technology as well as assist with curriculum and policy development.

What’s more, he has given backing to help state governors, government, and educators make computer science classes available to every student in school. 

Cook, more than anyone else, understands the importance of coding skills and how they will only grow in demand.