The Ten Most Innovative Companies and the LGBTs Who Got Them to the Top

Our annual list of innovative companies shows the many ways LGBT people are making a difference to business.



Tim Cook
Cupertino, Calif.

Facebook had a gay cofounder, Chris Hughes, and Microsoft’s early team boasted a few gay employees (like Soraya Bittencourt, the lesbian who created what eventually became Expedia and left Microsoft a millionaire). But few companies can compare to Apple, both in innovation and in the rank of its most senior gay employee: CEO Tim Cook. While Cook, 51, has been cagey about his sexual orientation, never discussing it with the media, he’s certainly never hidden it either. While a “Does it matter?” debate accompanied his ascension to the top post last year (shareholders decided it does not), most LGBT folks realized it was very important that an openly gay man was among the slim list of people at the top — in Silicon Valley and corporate America.

As Reuters tech writer Felix Salmon wrote last year, “It’s still not normal, in most workplaces, to have an open and accepting culture where all gay employees feel comfortable being open about who they are and who they love. Apple, by all accounts, is very good on that front and Steve Jobs’s other billion-dollar startup, Pixar, is even better.”

Apple leads on the LGBT employee front, being early to add gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy, compensating employees for the unfair taxing of partner benefits, supporting a highly active LGBT employee group, and making sure its business backs up its ideals (it dumped a “gay cure” app last year and released an It Gets Better video, for example).

And Apple continues to lead on the innovation front. Just think about all the “i” products in the average household and the massive hit that Siri was this year (so massive that Google and Amazon have both had to snap up rival technologies). “Think of it,” Fast Company magazine quipped. “They had to compete in a space that Apple just created. And in some cases the followers can barely keep up.”

By many accounts, it is Cook’s leadership (described as more “humane” than Jobs’s) that has led to this success here, and in China, where the company is growing rapidly. Cook says he’s planning to keep Apple the company it was under Jobs without making it a museum of the past, and in his office he displays photos of leaders he admires — Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. — which says a lot about him as a man. One of his recent actions: a program to match employees’ charitable donations because Cook believes that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

When Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg sat down with Cook in front of a packed crowd at the D: All Things Digital conference in May, Jane Lynch and a giant marching band warmed up the crowd. But they hardly needed it, so rapt was the attention paid to Cook, who onstage was warm and unflappable and willing to admit to relishing secrecy — about his company at least. One telling moment was when he explained how his daily email count went from hundreds to thousands after he became CEO, with most coming from customers. He sees it as an absolute benefit, and one that CEOs of other companies don’t have. “They talk to you as if you are sitting in their living room,” he said.