SALT LAKE CITY — To many in the tech world, getting a glimpse of the chief executive officer of one of the most iconic technology companies in history is akin to music fans seeing their favorite rock star.

To millions around the world, Apple CEO Tim Cook is THE rock star of tech — the living embodiment of success and innovation.

Cook was the featured guest of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, during a question and answer session with members of the Utah tech community Friday at the Grand America Hotel. He told the standing room only crowd gathering in the Imperial Ballroom that he never dreamed of being a CEO of Apple.

“I never thought it possible,” Cook said.

But he received the “call of a lifetime” from founder Steve Jobs in early 1998.

“Five minutes into the discussion with him, I wanted to throw caution to the wind and join Apple,” Cook said. “And it was the best decision I ever made.”

He told kids in the audience from two local grade schools to study hard and do great work, “and have faith that those things add up and will lead you on a journey that will be a most incredible journey.”

When asked about the future of encryption as it relates to maintaining privacy of digital communication, Cook said his company is dedicated to keeping their customers’ information as safe as possible from hackers and also from government intrusion. He referenced a case where Apple was asked to break into the mobile devices of terrorists who perpetrated a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, in 2015. The company refused multiple times citing privacy concerns.

“This is one of the biggest issues that we face,” Cook said. “Encryption is one of the things that makes the public safe.”

He advised budding entrepreneurs to decide what is most important to them — being first, being the best or making the most. At Apple, Jobs always preached about being the best, Cook said, and it's a principle the company follows to this day.

For other companies, the choice may be different. But no matter the choice, Cook advised those in attendance to use that principle as their "north star.” Pick one and “go for it,” he added.

“Our north star is making the best products that really enrich people’s lives,” Cook said. “If we can’t do (that), we pass.”

Asked by Hatch how the company maintains Jobs’ motivation for success, Cook said the late founder's imprint is indelibly etched into the soul of Apple.

“Steve’s spirit will always be in the DNA of the company,” he said. “It was his vision that Apple should make the best products and that they should enrich people’s lives. Lots of things will change with Apple, (but) that will never change.”

Jobs' office at the firm's Silicon Valley headquarters is still intact — the same as he left it before his death, Cook said. Leaving it that way reminds the employees what he always wanted for the company.

"It's important because I want his legacy to be with Apple (forever)," Cook said. "Not for Apple to be constrained by it … but we're very much married to his vision of making the best products that enrich people's lives. That doesn't change."

E-mail: jlee@deseretnews.com

Twitter: JasenLee1