In a discussion on evaluating gay CEOS on CNBC this morning, in the wake of a book in which former BP CEO John Browne talked about being a closeted gay executive, “Squawk on the Street” co-host Simon Hobbs managed to create a bit of a hubbub by stating accidentally that Apple CEO Tim Cook was “openly gay.”
Not so much, since Cook has not discussed his personal life in any public forum, despite much sideways speculation about it, such as a recent piece in the New York Times that did everything but declare it.
But Hobbs dispensed with the veiled reference, a statement which was met with awkward silence by those gathered on the panel. That included New York Times columnist James Stewart, who was there talking about his column on the lack of high-profile gay execs across the business landscape.
“There are gay CEOs in major companies, and I reached out to many of them,” said Stewart. “I got an extremely cool reception; not one would allow to be named at all.”
Hobbs then suddenly brought up Cook: “I think Tim Cook is fairly open about the fact he’s gay at the head of Apple, isn’t he?”
Hobbs quickly tried to recover: “Oh, dear, was that an error? I thought he was open about it.”
Nope. “I don’t want to comment about anybody who might or might not be,” said Stewart. “I’m not going to out anybody.”
The issue of how much personal information anyone in business has to reveal is a loaded one, especially when it comes to sexuality. For the record, I have never asked Cook, or most other execs I query, about any aspects of his personal life in my several interviews with him at our conference events. While others may disagree, I am conflicted on this one (see disclosure below) and pretty much am in the mind-your-own-business school of thought here.
CNBC declined comment and I have contacted Apple for a comment, but here is the clip of the CNBC exchange:
(Full disclosure: NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Revere Digital, which publishes Re/code, and we have a news operating agreement with its news division. Also, oh dear, I am a gay CEO.)