Tim Cook comes out: 5 other company chiefs who are openly gay

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California on Oct 27, 2014. Apple's chief executive Tim Cook on Thursday publicly came out as gay. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California on Oct 27, 2014. Apple's chief executive Tim Cook on Thursday publicly came out as gay. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

APPLE's chief executive Tim Cook on Thursday publicly came out as gay.

In an opinion piece published in Bloomberg Businessweek, Cook wrote: "So let me be clear: I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me."

Cook, who turns 54 on Saturday, said that he wanted to support others who find it difficult to reveal their sexual orientation.

While he is the first CEO in the Fortune 500 list who is openly gay, he is certainly not the only company chief who has come out in public.

Here are five other business heads who are homosexual and open about it:

1. Christopher Bailey, Burberry's CEO and chief creative officer

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The 43-year-old chief creative officer, who has worked at the luxury British fashion house since 2001, took on a second role as chief executive in May after his predecessor Angela Ahrendts left the company for a job at Apple.

This made him the first openly gay CEO of a company on the FTSE 100 - the London Stock Exchange's list of companies with the largest market capitalisation.

Since starting with Burberry, Bailey has helped to revolutionise the brand by spearheading its product design, creative marketing and digital innovation.

Because of this, the brand has "transformed into a fashion powerhouse with a strong social media presence", reported CNNMoney.

According to a statement by Burberry, its share price has increased by over 500 percent and its profits by £350 million (S$715 million) since Bailey joined the company.

Ahrendts herself has described her successor as "one of this generation's greatest visionaries", adding: "I looked in his eyes, and I trusted him."

British paper, The Guardian, also noted that he is "a genius when it comes to fashion collections", while Business of Fashion has labelled him an "industry darling".

In 2012 he married English actor Simon Woods, who is known for starring as Octavian in the British-American television series Rome and Charles Bingley in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film.

2. Robert Hanson, John Hardy's CEO

The 51-year-old was named chief executive of luxury jewelry maker John Hardy at the end of July.

He was previously CEO of American Eagle Outfitters, and prior to that, global brand president for Levi's.

In August he wrote an opinion piece for Time magazine entitled "Yep, I'm gay, and I'm a CEO-It doesn't stop me from running a great business". In it he described about being a gay businessman and called for "true equal opportunities for all people" at the workplace.

"An executive's purpose is to create economic opportunity by delivering results, but I also happen to believe that there is a concurrent goal: to make whatever business we are helming a force for positive social change," he wrote.

On fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation, he added: "It's not only right, but also smart for business. The facts show that a diverse workforce representative of our customer base leads to better decisions and performance over time."

Now based in New York City, the California native lives with his partner of 23 years, Michael, and they have an organic farm near San Francisco.

3. Nick Denton, Gawker Media Group's founder and publisher

Denton, 48, founded the Gawker media empire in 2002.

The Briton has since built the New York-based blog network into an influential media outlet which draws millions of readers with its news and gossip coverage.

His sites, however, have courted controversy. In the words of Forbes' Jeff Bercovici, they have "ruined careers, toppled leaders, sparked lawsuits and criminal investigations."

When asked why he had a vested interest in outing public figures such as Tim Cook, which Gawker did in 2011, he told Forbes: "It would be socially useful for the most powerful man in American business to be seen and widely known as being gay. People would see that if you're gay, you don't have to be a fashion designer or a closeted actor. There are other courses available to you."

Denton married 31-year-old actor and performance artist Derrence Washington in May, and their wedding featured in the New York Times.

4. Mike Jeffries, Abercrombie & Fitch's CEO

Jeffries has helmed the 122-year-old American retailer since 1992.

According to business magazine Fortune, the 70-year-old is credited with transforming Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) "from a stuffy hunting company where Teddy Roosevelt once shopped to a relevant teenage brand".

But his mode of leadership has come under negative scrutiny in recent years for placing too much emphasis on sex appeal.

In 2012, in light of a lawsuit claiming that Jeffries fired his jet pilot and replaced him with a younger man, Bloomberg reported that the chief executive imposed a dress code of polos, boxer briefs and flip flops on his male-model jet stewards.

In a 2006 interview with news site Salon, Jeffries infamously said that A&F clothes are only for "cool" people, and not for the unattractive or those who are overweight. His comments drew flak for being exclusionary.

"In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids," he said.

"Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong (in our clothes), and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don't alienate anybody, but you don't excite anybody, either."

Once married, he now lives with partner Matthew Smith.

5. Peter Thiel, PayPal and Palantir's co-founder

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This 47-year-old billionaire venture capitalist co-founded popular e-commerce business PayPal in 1998 and computer software and services company Palantir Technologies in 2004. He is currently chairman of Palantir.

With a real time net worth of US$2.1 billion (S$2.7 billion), the American was also the first outside investor in Facebook in 2004, and still sits on the board of directors of the social network.

According to Forbes, he has funded and hosted events for GOProud, a conservative group which supports gay rights.

At a 2010 fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, he said: "I believe that gay rights and marriage rights for gay people should not be a partisan issue.

"Gay marriage can't be a partisan issue because as long there are partisan issues or cultural issues in this country, you'll have trench warfare like on the western front in World War I. You'll have lots of carnage and no progress."

In a September interview with Business Insider, Thiel said that a "perception of discrimination" could be holding more gay CEOs from coming out in public.

He said: "A lot of these businesses are global in reach, and when you have customers all over the world, it becomes a question of 'Will they hold that (being gay) against you?'"

Sources: CNNMoney, The Guardian, Business of Fashion, CNBC, Time, John Hardy, Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Times, Forbes, Salon, Business Insider

yeosamjo@sph.com.sg