NEWS

Apple shareholders urge CEO Tim Cook to link up with Tesla

03/11/2015 12:11 EDT | Updated 05/11/2015 05:59 EDT
Days after the launch of the Apple Watch, Apple's annual general meeting was dominated by a push from shareholders of the Californian technology company to buy or partner with one of its Silicon Valley neighbours, electric car maker Tesla.

Apple CEO Tim Cook fielded questions from analysts and investors on Tuesday. Given that the stock is up 65 per cent in the past 12 months and has more than doubled since he took over from Steve Jobs, it's a fair assessment to suggest that they mood was generally content and there weren't a lot of tough complaints to stickhandle.

He did, however, duck a couple of questions from two investors who urged him to buy or partner with Tesla, the high-end electric car maker.

Apple has hired several automotive engineers but has not confirmed reports it may be working on its own electric car.

"We're very focused on Car Play," Cook said, referring to Apple software used by several automakers. He said Apple has no current deal with Tesla, although he grinned and said "we'd love for them" to use the software too.

"We don't really have a relationship with them," he said. "Was that a good way to avoid the question?" he added, drawing laughs from the audience.

It's an intriguing thought, as the two companies are easily two of the hottest names in Silicon Valley that — for the moment anyway — don't ostensibly compete with each other.

The ability to attach Tesla's name and talent pool to Apple's war chest and tentative steps into the automotive space for a relatively paltry sum of more than $25 billion (Tesla's market value on Wednesday morning) is too tantalizing to dismiss outright.

Just last week, Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, who owns about a quarter of the company, told skeptical investors and analysts on his company's earnings call that he foresees his company being worth more than Apple within a decade. That's a tall order, considering Apple is the most valuable public company in the world, currently valued at more than $700 billion.

The two companies have been engaged in a war for talent, repeatedly poaching employees from each other over the years.

Diversity concerns

Tesla wasn't the only topic of the day, though. The company did face some tough questions on its poor record on diversity issues.

Two speakers, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and a black Apple shareholder who did not provide his name, urged Cook to improve diversity in Apple's leadership and board. Apple has no black or Latino directors, and 12 of the 15 top executives listed on its website are white men.

Jackson has pressed Silicon Valley companies to improve diversity. He praised Cook for releasing workforce demographics statistics as several other top tech companies have done, but urged Apple to follow Intel's lead in setting more specific goals.

Cook promised more progress. Later in the meeting, he introduced two Apple vice-presidents who are black women: Lisa Jackson, the former U.S. EPA administrator who now runs Apple's environmental programs, and Denise Young Smith, the company's top human resources official.

"Our diversity is increasing," Cook said. "I want it to be better. It will be better."

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