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By Jason Snell

Tim Cook on Apple’s 2020

Note: This story has not been updated since 2020.

Times are tough. And then in rolls Apple with a record fourth fiscal quarter, complete with $64B in revenue, and all-time record Mac and Services revenue. It’s enough to make Tim Cook sheepish, a bit, and for the second consecutive quarter he spent some time on Thursday trying to balance crowing about the company’s continued success with an understanding that times are tough—and that his own employees are executing in difficult circumstances.

I have to be honest—I generally find the opening segment of Apple’s quarterly conference call with financial analysts to be a snooze, because it’s Cook and Apple CFO Luca Maestri reading from prepared text that’s largely a rehash of Apple’s recent product announcements combined with a rehash of the numbers Apple disclosed a half an hour before in its official reports.

But in placing the company’s current success in context, I think Cook really outdid himself. It’s worth quoting some of what he said at length. (A complete transcript is also available.)

When you pull back the lens to the entire fiscal year, it’s a testament to the team’s work and to the resilience of the business in the era of COVID-19….

When we first began to grapple with COVID-19, I said there are worse things for a company whose business is innovation than having to periodically do just about everything in an entirely new way. This year we [worked] in a way that pushed us to re-imagine every part of [our] innovation process, down to how we share these announcements with the world, and how we get new products into our customer’s hands. Working from kitchen tables and bedrooms, in distanced office settings and reworked labs and manufacturing facilities, the team rebuilt every part of the plane while it was midair. And the results speak for themselves….

Innovation isn’t just about what you make—it’s about how you approach problems. And these teams, and every team across Apple, have not faced a single question this year that they haven’t found an answer to with passion and resolve. Their actions didn’t just meet the moment, they will make us a better company moving forward….

I think if I had to describe our performance this quarter in a single word, it’s resilient. Financial performance aside, I don’t think this year will be a time that any of us look back on with great fondness or nostalgia. Those of us who wake up every day hoping for return to normal can count ourselves fortunate. Others don’t have that luxury. There is the great pain of a lost loved one, the uncertainty and fear of a lost job, a deep well of concern for people we care about who we are not able to see. A sense of opportunities missed, of plans delayed, of time lost. Even though we’re apart, it’s been obvious this year that around the company teams and colleagues have been leaning on and counting on each other more than in normal times. I think that instinct, that resilience, has been an essential part of how we have navigated this year.

Work can’t solve for all the things we’re missing right now, but a shared sense of purpose goes a long way. A belief that we can do more together than we can alone, that people of good will, driven by creativity and passion and that certain itch of a big idea, can still do things that help other people in our own small way to teach, to learn, to create, or just to relax at a time like this. Even as the things we make require us to operate at the very cutting edge of technology, in materials, products, and ideas that didn’t exist just a few years ago, this year has forced us to face plainly the things that make us human—disease, resilience, and hope.

You never wish for a year like this one, but I couldn’t be prouder of the team, the work we have done, and the small role we have played in helping our communities find hope and resilience in this time.

I’ll have a few other notes about the quarterly results tomorrow.

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