By Clyde L
During the latter part of 2019, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, was seen as friendly as ever to the then-President Donald Trump, in what was seemed like a power play by Cook to get more inside influence on US political matters, to optimise the manufacturing costs Apple had at the time. Whilst the relationship was looked down upon by a lot of the US media, it seems to have worked out very well for Apple.
Even before Trump had been inaugurated, Trump and Cook had had a cordial relationship. The two had been seen at Trump Tower, alongside Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Elon Musk in late 2016. Cook soon began to “cosy up” to Trump, but unbeknownst to the public this was not done simply because the two were friends. This was first realised when Apple immediately took advantage of the lower corporation tax rates and re-imported their $230 billion in offshore holdings in 2017. This was only the beginning of this unique relationship, at a time where Trump’s trade war with China could have had devastating consequences for the company, which at the time relied heavily on Chinese manufacturing. However, Apple emerged with exactly what it wanted by appealing to the transactional politics that had become synonymous with Trump during his administration.
Cook built his relationship with Trump in order to advocate for potential changes in trade policy. The majority of devices created now and in Trump’s era are and were manufactured in China, meaning the electronic tariffs that were put in place had a negative impact on the company’s profits. However, it is clear that Cook tried to steer Trump away from implementing these tariffs, arguing how damaging the policy would be to Apple compared to international competition. Even when Trump inevitably did bring in the tariffs, Apple somehow had pre-emptively moved their manufacturing to other countries such as India in order to protect their profit margins.
Cook’s relationship with Trump has led to Apple essentially being left unscathed from the damage that other consumer electronics firms have faced. Policy changes that affected rival firms were pre-emptively matched by Apple changing their own manufacturing policies to keep profits safe. It was almost as if Apple had some sort of insider information, allowing them to know what to do before changes were made that would harm the company. This must have been helped by the relationship that Cook built with Trump over his presidency – thanks to which Apple in recent months became the first $3 trillion company. By showing Trump factories such as the Mac Pro factory in Texas in late 2019, Apple were able to prove that they were not completely reliant on China, leading the President to see the company more favourably, and thus enabling them to get ahead of the competition by showing that they were a valuable asset to US economy. Trump’s trade war should have been as damaging to Apple as it was to the likes of Microsoft, IBM and other large consumer electronics firms, but this wasn’t the case due to the pertinent relationship Cook had with Trump.
It is unclear whether Cook was (or is) a Trump supporter, but by befriending Trump, Apple was able to continue to make their products and keynotes whilst keeping ahead of Trump’s policy making. For a company synonymous with the word innovation, there is nothing innovative about the tactics presented here. Even if the relationship that Cook built with Trump was self-interested, the results have proven to be excellent for Apple, who since Trump’s inauguration not only became the first trillion dollar company, but also the first $2 trillion and $3 trillion company, joining an elite club of firms with more money than the US Treasury itself. Leading into the COVID Pandemic, Apple was able to sustain an even greater level of growth than before, which would not have occurred to the same extent if it not been for their prior growth during the Trump administration. Without Cook’s relationship with Trump, the company may not have reached the heights that it has today.