In February of this year, a group of investors visited Apple as part of a "bus tour" led by a research analyst for Citibank. The session started with a 45-minute presentation by Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's chief financial officer, and the 15 or so investors who attended the session were treated to Apple's unique brand of hospitality: They met in a threadbare conference room in Apple's Town Hall public conference center at the 4 Infinite Loop building in Cupertino, Calif., where the refreshments consisted of "three stale cookies and two Diet Cokes," in the words of one participant.
All that, save the meager refreshments, is routine for big public companies in Silicon Valley, which use the check-ins as opportunities to communicate with large owners of their stock. What shocked the Apple (AAPL) investors that day was that CEO Tim Cook popped into the room about 20 minutes into Oppenheimer's talk, quietly sat down in the back of the room, and did something unusual for a CEO of Apple: He listened. He didn't check his e-mail once. He didn't interrupt.