shareholder meeting

Apple's Tim Cook picks a fight with climate change deniers

March 1, 2014: 6:27 AM ET

Tells shareholders who oppose Apple's sustainability efforts to "get out of the stock."

Cook. Photo: AP

Cook. Photo: AP

FORTUNE -- Of the roomful of investors and journalists who heard Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook lose his southern cool during the Q&A portion of the company's annual stockholders meeting Friday, The Mac Observer's Brian Chaffin tells it best:

[A] self-described conservative think tank was pushing a shareholder proposal that would have required Apple to disclose the costs of its sustainability programs and to be more transparent about its participation in "certain trade associations and business organizations promoting the amorphous concept of environmental sustainability"...

During the question and answer session, however, the NCPPR representative asked Mr. Cook two questions, both of which were in line with the principles espoused in the group's proposal.

The first question challenged an assertion from Mr. Cook that Apple's sustainability programs and goals—Apple plans on having 100 percent of its power come from green sources—are good for the bottom line. The representative asked Mr. Cook if that was the case only because of government subsidies on green energy.

Mr. Cook didn't directly answer that question, but instead focused on the second question: the NCPPR representative asked Mr. Cook to commit right then and there to doing only those things that were profitable.

What ensued was the only time I can recall seeing Tim Cook angry, and he categorically rejected the worldview behind the NCPPR's advocacy. He said that there are many things Apple does because they are right and just, and that a return on investment (ROI) was not the primary consideration on such issues.

"When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind," he said, "I don't consider the bloody ROI." He said that the same thing about environmental issues, worker safety, and other areas where Apple is a leader.

As evidenced by the use of "bloody" in his response—the closest thing to public profanity I've ever seen from Mr. Cook–it was clear that he was quite angry. His body language changed, his face contracted, and he spoke in rapid fire sentences compared to the usual metered and controlled way he speaks.

He didn't stop there, however, as he looked directly at the NCPPR representative and said, "If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock."

NCPPR's Danhof.

NCPPR's Danhof.

The National Center for Public Policy Research posted its own account of the exchange under the headline: Tim Cook to Apple investors: Drop Dead. It included remarks from general counsel Justin Danhof, the man who confronted Cook.

"Although the National Center's proposal did not receive the required votes to pass, millions of Apple shareholders now know that the company is involved with organizations that don't appear to have the best interest of Apple's investors in mind," said Danhof. "Too often investors look at short-term returns and are unaware of corporate policy decisions that may affect long-term financial prospects. After today's meeting, investors can be certain that Apple is wasting untold amounts of shareholder money to combat so-called climate change. The only remaining question is: how much?"

Danhof directs the NCPPR's Free Enterprise Project, which describes its mission as "expos[ing] efforts by left-wing interest groups to divert businesses away from best practices and into left-wing advocacy."

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