When Tim Cook was a student in Duke University’s MBA program, he could scarcely dream that one day he'd be running one of the world's most recognizable brands. Initially seen as a mere caretaker for Steve Jobs' beloved Apple franchise, Cook has since forged his own distinctive legacy.
Under Cook's leadership, Apple has thrived beyond all expectation. The company is now the most valuable publicly traded corporation in the world. To put Apple's transformation in dollar terms, the company was worth around $350 billion when Jobs died in 2011. Today, the world's most trusted electronic gadget manufacturing firm is also the first in the U.S. with a market capitalization that topped $2 trillion.
Growing up in 1960's Alabama, there was little indication that this son of a shipyard worker would eventually become one of the most influential CEOs on the globe. The keenness of his intellect was undeniable though. Always a good student, in 1982 Cook graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering, before enrolling in Duke University's top-tier Fuqua School of Business. According to a former dean of Fuqua, Cook was a "model student," known for being well-liked and always prepared. Later Cook was awarded the title of Fuqua Scholar, an honor given only to students at the B-school who graduate in the top 10% of their MBA class.
A 4am riser, Cook is known to be a workaholic with a zealot-like dedication to looking ahead. But lucky for Duke University, this approach doesn't preclude him from also remembering where he came from.
In 2013 Cook showed up on Duke's campus in honor of his 25-year reunion. In a jam-packed Geneen Auditorium, Cook took part in an hour-long dialogue with Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding, offering the crowd wisdom from his many years of vast empire building. Then, in 2018, Cook made another big splash at Duke after being asked to deliver the commencement speech. To many, Cook was the perfect choice.
"Throughout his career, Tim has embodied Duke’s values of innovation and service to society, whether through his contributions to Apple’s groundbreaking technology or his advocacy for social justice," said Dean Boulding, describing Cook's importance to the school. "I can imagine no better person, and no bigger Duke fan, to inspire [us]."
While the speech included some of the regular graduation pablum, it also touched on many hot-button issues. These included climate change, digital privacy concerns, economic inequality, and rising political division. Ultimately, however, Cook's message was one of hope. No other generation, Cook carefully explained, has had more power to affect positive change due to the increase in available technology, making it "the best time in history to be alive."
In addition, Cook has been a member of the Duke Board of Trustees since 2015 and is a member of the Facilities and Environment Committee. As Tim Cook enters his 10th year in charge of Apple, he remains one of the most successful CEOs, deeply connected to one of the most prestigious MBA programs in the country.