Apple's Tim Cook traveled a lot for work in 2020 despite COVID, took less vacation

The tech giant's annual report to shareholders offers some hints as to how Apple's CEO worked during the pandemic

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
3 min read

Tim Cook at Apple Park last year.


The coronavirus pandemic significantly disrupted people's lives last year. It forced many of us to restrict our movements, with many people working primarily from home. Those who didn't had to take extra precautions, wearing masks and sometimes other extra protective gear as they potentially risked their health in service of their jobs. Despite being one of the most powerful CEOs in the world, or perhaps because of it, Apple's Tim Cook appeared to have been on the road a lot in 2020.

Included in the tech giant's filing with its stockholders Tuesday ahead of its annual shareholder meeting in February, Apple said Cook's air travel expenses were $432,564 last year. That's up more than 37% from the $315,311 Apple tallied in 2019, which itself had risen from 2018. 

Though Apple requires that Cook use a private aircraft for all business and personal travel, it's unlikely he did much personal traveling either. Apple paid out $115,385 to him in unused vacation time, up 25% from 2019. Cook's air travel includes costs for fuel, departure and landing fees, and hourly flight charges. Apple declined to comment on how those costs have changed with additional health measures in response to the pandemic.

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The data about Cook is far from as dramatic as rumors about a new iPhone or potentially even an iCar. But it does give a window into his life. Cook famously guards his privacy, though he has become more outspoken on social issues like LGBTQ rights, immigration and the environment.

Those vacation and travel costs, as well as other items like his $3 million salary, 401(K) contributions, life insurance and $470,246 in security costs, all added up to $14.7 million. That's up 28% from 2019, and down slightly from from 2018.

All told, Cook's compensation was about 256 times the median compensation for Apple's employees.

Compensation for other executives in the filing included $26.3 million for CFO Luca Maestri, $26.2 million for General Counsel Kate Adams, $26.3 million for head of people and retail Deirdre O'Brien, and $26.3 million for COO Jeff Williams. Each had risen from 2019.

"Our executive compensation program is based on clear guiding principles and sound compensation practices that align the compensation of our named executive officers with the interests of our shareholders," Apple's board of directors said in a statement in the filing. "It is designed to motivate and reward exceptional performance in a straightforward and effective way, while also recognizing the size, scope, and success of Apple's business."

Apple will be holding its annual meeting of shareholders virtually on Feb. 23 at 9 a.m. PT / noon ET. Typically, Apple's shareholder meeting is held in person at Apple Park without a public audio or video feed, but this year the company appears to be adjusting in response to the pandemic. Whether executives will respond to questions from the public, as they have in previous years while in person, is yet to be seen.

As in previous years, shareholders will vote to elect the company's board of directors, ratify its public accounting firm Ernst & Young, which was paid $22.2 million for auditing, tax compliance and other fees in 2020. Apple paid the firm $21.3 million in 2019.

Shareholders will also be asked to give an advisory vote on executive compensation, allowing them to indicate to the board whether they're unhappy with how much executives are paid. In other companies, this can sometimes be seen as a metric of shareholder happiness with executives.

Stock owners will also be able to vote on two proposals offered by their peers, including a push to allow shareholders to nominate two directors, or 20% of the board, rather than the one they can now. The shareholder proposal says that of the 86% of companies that allow nominations, they allow shareholders to nominate either a minimum of two directors or 25% of the board.

The other proposal asks that Apple change its executive compensation program to consider pay ratios and other factors, which effectively could push the board to pay executives less.

Apple's board recommended shareholders vote against both proposals.