Tim Cook's 5-Word Response to Facebook Is Brutal and Brilliant at the Same Time

Tim Cook’s interview with Kara Swisher for her Sway podcast was revealing on several fronts. Probably the most reported part of the conversation was the revelation that Apple’s CEO doesn’t expect to still hold the top job in 10 years. That’s certainly interesting, but honestly, it’s no surprise that Cook might not want to continue the pace required to manage the world’s most valuable company when he’s 70. 

There was also plenty of nodding towards future products like augmented reality glasses, and even the possibility of an Apple car someday. Either would certainly be welcome, but we already expect that Apple is working on both. It wasn’t much of a surprise.

Far more interesting, at least as far as I’m concerned, was Cook’s response when asked by Swisher about how Apple’s upcoming privacy changes will affect Facebook. 

“I’m not focused on Facebook, so I don’t know,” Cook said. Reminded by Swisher that Facebook has said Apple is increasingly becoming one of its biggest competitors, Cook doubled down on his position. 

“Oh, I think that we compete in some things,” said Cook. “But no, if I’m asked who our biggest competitors are, they would not be listed”

Honestly, those seven words, “I’m not focused on Facebook,” are both brutal and brilliant at the same time. They’re brutal because Cook is making it clear that the company isn’t making decisions based on Facebook, or anyone else, for that matter. As much as has been made of the battle between Apple and Facebook over the past few months, Cook dismisses the social media company out of hand. 

Which, to be fair, is quite reasonable. Apple, in 2020, brought in roughly $200 billion in revenue–selling millions of iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple Watches–and is worth a little over $2 trillion. Facebook, on the other hand, had $86 billion in revenue-mostly from digital ads–and is worth around $860 million. That’s not bad, but it’s nothing compared to Apple, which earns more profit in a quarter than Facebook does all year.

At the same time, it’s brilliant because Cook is clear that he makes decisions for Apple based on what’s best for the company and its users. He’s not concerned with other companies, whether they be competitors or not.

I’m reminded of a quote I came across when researching the cover story on Jeff Bezos for this month’s print magazine. “Don’t be afraid of our competitors, they’re never going to give us money anyway,” Bezos said. “Be afraid of our customers.” 

Too many companies spend too much time thinking about what their competition is doing, and not enough time trying to understand their customers and what they really want. That feels a lot like what Facebook is doing. 

Instead of focusing on how to better protect its users’ personal information, Facebook seems to be more interested in what Apple is doing. Specifically, it’s spending a lot of time and energy focused on Apple’s upcoming changes to iOS 14 that might affect its own bottom line. 

Instead, Cook’s response is a great example of emotional intelligence. Despite all of Facebook’s attacks, Cook isn’t letting it cloud his vision for what he thinks Apple should be doing. It would be easy to be upset, or to lose focus, but that never serves your customers or your business in the long run. 

Just ask Facebook.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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