In a segment that will surely go down in the annals of awkward live television moments, Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Tim Cook was mistakenly named as a CEO who publicly identifies himself as gay during a recent discussion on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” program. The gaffe occurred during a discussion with The New York Times columnist James Stewart, who was there to talk about an article he wrote on John Browne, the former CEO of oil multinational BP (NYSE:BP). Browne, who recently wrote a book titled, The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out Is Good for Business, famously resigned from BP after he was outed by a British tabloid.
The discussion soon turned to the noticeable lack of high-profile CEOs that publicly identify themselves as gay. Stewart noted that he was surprised to discover that Browne was “the first person ever at a Fortune 500 or FTSE 100 company to publicly acknowledge that he is gay.” As pointed out by Stewart, this is surprising in light of all the advances that have been made in civil rights and especially considering that CEOs are essentially measured by one objective criterion: financial performance. “We even have pro football players on television acknowledging they’re gay,” said Stewart.
Unfortunately, as noted by Stewart in his article on Browne, this openness does not appear to have reached the boardroom level at many companies, despite the lip service paid to inclusiveness and equality. “Of course, there are gay CEOs at major companies,” said Stewart on CNBC. “I reached out to many of them and I have to say I got an extremely cool reception. Not one would allow to be named in the column.”
Then, to correct what he presumably thought was an oversight on Stewart’s part, co-host Simon Hobbs interjected, “I think Tim Cook is fairly open about the fact he’s gay at the head of Apple, isn’t he?” After a brief stunned silence from the other co-hosts and a “no” answer from a dismayed looking Stewart, Hobbs quickly realized his mistake and made a half-hearted attempt to wipe the egg off his face. “Oh, dear, was that an error?” asked Hobbs. “I thought he was open about it.”