Tim Cook let his gut make decision on Apple job in '98

Apple's CEO says he followed his intuition -- over his own analysis and advice of friends -- in deciding to join the then-struggling computer maker.

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2 min read
Apple CEO Tim Cook. CBS Interactive

Despite Tim Cook's own analysis and the advice of his friends, the Apple chief executive let his gut make the final decision 15 years ago on whether to take a job at the then-struggling Mac maker.

Cook, who joined Apple in 1998 as a senior vice president of worldwide operations, revealed his thinking on the matter during an onstage interview in April at his alma mater, the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. Even though he considers himself an analytical engineer at heart, he said he often trusts his intuition for important decisions, calling his Apple decision "a prime example."

"I remember forming my list of pluses and minuses and I could not get the chart to work out the way that I wanted it to," he said during the interview, video of which was only recently made available to the media. "I wanted something to say, you know, this says I should go to Apple, but it would not -- nothing financially would do that."

Cook, who had just joined hardware-maker Compaq after 12 years at IBM, said his intuition was criticized by those from whom he had sought advice.

I talked to people I trusted that knew me and they said, "This is not what you should do." It wasn't so easy. And people said, "You know, you are just crazy. You are working for the top PC company in the world. How could you even think of doing this? You've lost your mind." And yet that voice said, "Go west, young man. Go west." And sometimes you just have to go for it.

The hard part, apparently, was convincing Cook that he wanted to work at Apple in the first place -- a company that had held as little as 4 percent of the computer market.

During an onstage interview at the D10 conference last year, Cook recounted how he had been recruited from Compaq, where he worked as vice president of corporate materials. After rejecting multiple overtures from an executive search firm hired by Apple CEO Steve Jobs to find an operations executive, Cook finally agreed to an interview and caught a red-eye flight from Houston on a Saturday morning to meet with Apple.

"It was a very interesting meeting," he said. "Five minutes into the conversation, I am wanting to join Apple. I am shocked at this because it wasn't what I envisioned at all."

After serving as Apple's COO for several years, Cook was named Apple's chief executive in 2011 upon Jobs' resignation.

The portion of the interview focusing on his job decision is below.