“Personally, I’ve never found being on the sideline a successful place to be. We engage when we agree and we engage when we disagree. I think it’s very important to do that because you don’t change things by just yelling. – Apple CEO Tim Cook
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When word got out that the biggest names in tech had been invited to meet with President-elect Donald Trump, you could practically hear the howls of the Valley elite clear up on Mount Loma Prieta. Don’t do it, they cried. Don’t sacrifice your integrity by legitimizing a fascist who wants to [fill in the blank with overblown campaign quote].
It was hard enough to watch their epic meltdowns when Trump was elected. Seeing adults throw temper tantrums like little children who didn’t get what they wanted for Christmas is never pleasant. But some industry insiders actually sought to bully the titans of tech into declining Trump’s invite and staying home.
“The leaders of tech should be ashamed of themselves for lining up like sheeple,” wrote Recode’s Kara Swisher. Instead of “opting to sit in that gilded room at Trump Tower,” she wrote, “you can say no – loudly and publicly.” Swisher concluded the post with three f-bombs. Now that’s mature.
In an NPR interview, venture investor and Hillary Clinton supporter Chris Sacca cautioned that, “tech leaders showing up to Trump Tower [might] just normalize a person who has the potential to be an incredibly despotic leader,” he said. “I also think there are going to be ramifications for those tech leaders who go. They will soon find they will not have people applying to work at their companies.”
I guess Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) are all in big trouble, since their top executives were among those who ignored Sacca’s ludicrous advice and risked “showing up.” So if you’re looking for a tech job, you can forget about all those great companies and just send your resume to Sacca. I’m sure he’ll hook you right up.
The notion that the best way for CEOs to deal with a U.S. President whose policies they may disagree with is to snub his invitation to meet, get a safe distance away in their ivory tower and hide is beyond ridiculous. So is penning some sort of self-righteous diatribe or whining to the media. That’s not how real leaders get things done.
Successful executives and entrepreneurs like Tim Cook and Jeff Bezos got to where they are by facing adversity head on, embracing diverse viewpoints and trusting their gut to make the right call, not by avoiding a powerful leader with influence over their company’s future. That’s not just a no-brainer; it’s arguably a breach of fiduciary duty to act otherwise.
In response to a question on Apple’s internal employee communication platform asking why he decided to engage with Trump, Cook replied that Apple has a vested interest in many issues that will be in play during Trump’s term in office, including job creation, intellectual property reform and tax reform and simplification. He went on to give some savvy advice to his employees.
“Personally, I’ve never found being on the sideline a successful place to be. The way that you influence these issues is to be in the arena,” he wrote. “We engage when we agree and we engage when we disagree. I think it’s very important to do that because you don’t change things by just yelling. You change things by showing everyone why your way is the best. In many ways, it’s a debate of ideas.”
It bears mentioning that after the roundtable meeting Cook met privately with Trump. That was smart.
I haven’t read Trump’s Art of War, er, Art of the Deal, but as a former senior executive of the tech industry myself, I do know something about negotiating. One thing’s for sure, you can’t make a deal without showing up at the table. You can always go to court later, but first, you meet and try to work it out. That’s just what real leaders do.
To quote a soon-to-be former President, this is definitely a “teachable moment.” The only thing missing is the beer.