Apple CEO Tim Cook Plays His Trump Card

Apple's new Mac Pro computer

AUSTIN, TX–Last August, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook had dinner with America’s Commander in Chief Donald Trump and discussed those pesky tariffs on exported Chinese products that may have slipped from the headlines recently but are never far from the table of commerce. The setting was Donald Trump’s villa at his Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey. Cook had arranged to break bread with the President, to complain in person about the anticipated 10% tariffs about to be placed on Apple’s iPhones and other products.

Cook’s logic was that since Apple’s chief competitor, Samsung, built its phones in Korea, the company escaped the double-digit tariff penalty that would likely raise retail prices for Apple.

“I thought he made a very compelling argument,” Trump said after their dinner. “It’s tough for Apple to pay tariffs if it’s competing with a very good company that’s not. He made a good case against tariffs.”

The “good case” involved giving Apple Inc. a special exemption against having its Chinese made cell phones tariffed, like the majority of Chinese imports were about to be. While no one knew it at the time, in exchange for this “accommodation,” Trump strongly suggested that Cook and his company bring some of its production back to the United States.

This past week, President Trump arrived in Austin, Texas, with Apple’s Tim Cook to tour a factory making Mac Pro, the firm’s corporate computer. Here the executives, one U.S. President, the other CEO of the world’s most valuable company came to show off the fruit of the labor which resulted from their dinner. There can be little doubt that Trump was in his element, taking full credit for what he labeled  “the beginning of a very powerful and important plant. And anybody that followed my campaign, I would always talk about Apple — that I want to see Apple building plants in the United States. And that’s what’s happening.”  Ah, well…no.

Standing right next to Trump, Tim Cook remained silent, unwilling to correct the President of the United States on making such a fundamental blunder. Bad form on a public stage. Nonetheless, the plant in which they were standing has been in operation for six years, making the Mac Pro all along. No new jobs. Not even a new Apple plant, really. This plant was not built or owned by Apple, but rather by Flex, a manufacturing company formerly known as Flextronics, that has a contract with Apple to make the Mac Pro.

Earlier on the same day, Cook did announce the building of a new $1 billion campus for office workers in North Austin, which had nothing to do with the plant or  Trump’s claim to a boost in the economy from production of the Mac Pro in America. While at one point Trump also attempted to suggest he was instrumental to the building of the Apple campus, in truth the company will receive annual rebates totaling 65 percent of its county property taxes. To qualify for the rebates, Apple must invest $400 million in the campus—not $1 billion and hire 4,000 workers.

Apple also has been pledged a total of $25 million for the project from the state-run Texas Enterprise Fund. All of which means the state of Texas and the city of North Austin deserves the credit for the campus, which has no federal sponsorship of any kind.

Trump is eager to utilize the exposure he gets through Tim Cook as an illustration of how he is helping bring jobs to America. In this context, the manufacture of Apple’s Mac Pro involves the usage of various components from 36 states, which assists in building 450,000 jobs with US suppliers.

Cook is cozying up to Donald Trump to save his company millions of dollars, while playing the White House like a maestro.

Despite his own personal feelings about Trump and his administration, Cook has managed to leverage his relationship to save Apple $43 billion by repatriating $238 billion under the 2017 tax bill championed by Trump and the Republicans. Apple’s stock has risen over 60% since Cook’s January warning of faltering sales in China that caused the stock to plunge to a year low. Other tech stocks have done well since then, but few as well as Apple, according to Forbes magazine.

Tim Cook is gay, and Apple Inc. stands as an example of a company investing in diversity and equality on all levels. Apple Inc. is currently included in the annual LGBTQ Loyalty100 ESG Index.

Richard Hack is an award-winning author and journalist; and an outspoken advocate for equality in business and government, as well as neutrality in news media.

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