Tim Cook joined Apple because even 'when customers got mad at Apple, they'd continue to buy'

It's epic storytelling time at AllThingsD 10 as audience Q&A has begun, with Apple CEO Tim Cook opening up on why he came to join the company in the first place in response to a question from Lance Ulanoff of Mashable. To hear him tell it, an executive search firm came calling and he wasn't pressed -- until five minutes into his meeting with Steve Jobs. We'll let him tell it:

It was a very interesting meeting. Steve had hired an executive search firm to find someone to run operations. They kept calling, and eventually I said 'Okay, I'll talk.' I flew out Friday on a redeye for a Saturday morning meeting with Steve. The honest-to-God truth, five minutes into the conversation I wanted to join Apple. I was shocked. Why did I want to do it? He painted a story and a strategy that he was taking Apple deep into consumer when I knew others were doing the exact opposite. I never thought following the herd was brilliant. He told me a bit about what would late be named the iMac, and I saw brilliance in that. I saw someone unaffected with money, and that has always impressed me when people do indeed have it. Those three things to me to throw caution to the wind and do it. I went back, and resigned immediately.

Did I see the iPad and iPhone? No. What I saw was this: Apple was the only technology company that I knew of, including the one I was currently at, that when a customer got mad at a company, they'd continue to buy. If people got mad at Compaq, they'd buy Dell. If you were mad at Dell, you'd buy IBM. But an Apple customer was a unique breed; there's this emotion that you just don't see in technology in general. You could see it and feel it at Apple. When I looked at the balance sheet of the company, I thought I could do something in turning around a great American company.

Whether you call it the reality distortion field or simply a strong brand attachment, it was enough, along with Steve Jobs' vision, to lure Tim Cook to work at Apple even when things weren't going so well back in 1998. Can he keep the shield generators running as CEO? Time will tell.