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Apple's legislative agenda has 'improved substantially' under Tim Cook

Apple's discourse with the federal government is one area where Tim Cook has outshone Steve Jobs.

A 1997 Apple ad campaign stated, “the ones that are crazy enough to think they can change the world…are the ones that do.” When Tim Cook took over from Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple, many that asked how the company would change. How would the new CEO of arguably the world’s most successful company of the last decade – and one of the world’s richest companies – possibly be able to shepherd with same degree of success as his predecessor?

So far, the signs indicate that Apple isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Very little of any consequence appears to have changed since Cook took over the Cupertino-based company. There appears to be a continuous stream of new products in development: a much-rumored Apple TV, the iPhone 5, and continued updates to the Macintosh product line. The new iPad was a critical success, selling the same number of units in its first three days that the original iPad had sold in its first 80. The iPhone 4S has sold faster than previous handsets and, as a result, revenues continue to improve quarter by quarter. And the team assembled by Jobs over the least 15 years – including chief designer Jonathan Ive – appears to remain as committed to each other, and the company, as ever.

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In fact, I would argue that there’s one area in which Apple has even improved substantially under Tim Cook’s reign: their interaction with federal legislators. For some people, Jobs’ autocratic approach to running Apple – Apple veteran Guy Kawasaki referred to it as “MBWA” (Management By Walking Around) in his seminal book “The Macintosh Way” – was what made Apple products great. While that may have been an effective way to build and market technology, it wasn’t so great for Apple’s legislative agenda. For a company like Apple, when its products become ubiquitous, its business practices will eventually draw the scrutiny of Congress. Unfortunately, Jobs’ approach to dealing with that scrutiny was the same as how he dealt with other things he perceived as “red tape”: ignore them. The result was a rather checkered history between Apple and the federal government, accentuated by multiple federal lawsuits and investigations, coupled with claims of "Silicon Valley arrogance” against the company by beltway political insiders. It was only when pending legislation threatened Apple’s interests (e.g., the NSA’s ill-fated Clipper chip, or SOPA), that the company’s lobbying machine kicked into high gear, and Jobs would send the appropriate flunkies to D.C. to preach “the way things ought to be” to those whom he perceived as technologically ignorant.

Fortunately, this autocratic (and frankly, wrong) approach has changed dramatically – and decidedly for the better – under Tim Cook. Whereas Jobs was traditionally reluctant to talk to the press, dismissive when asked difficult questions, and rarely engaged with investors or government agencies, under Cook the legendary “reality distortion field” appears to be lifting…at least a little. In his year at the helm, Cook has actively engaged legislators, including spending time with multiple Senate and Congressional representatives in both chamber and committee leadership over the past few months. By actively engaging policy makers and legislators – not to mention Wall Street, investors and the media – Tim Cook has marked a turning point in Apple’s public relations; one that is now focused on Apple being a company that has an acknowledged relationship with the outside world, rather than simply an ivory tower of coolness.

Cook’s recent meetings with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were, by all accounts, introductory “meet-and-greets” with no serious issues discussed. It does, however, break Apple’s previous unwritten rule of not mixing politics with business. This increased transparency bodes well for Apple and the industries in which it operates, and demonstrates that Apple, under Cook’s stewardship, is willing to engage with the wider community on issues like device and information security, customer privacy, interoperability, the thorny issue of Chinese workers who build the company's products, and an increased visibility on issues that are likely to impact on the company’s long-term financial performance and customer adoration.

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