Angela Ahrendts Shares Lessons She Learned While Working at Apple

angela ahrendts heroFormer Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts left the company last month, and ahead of her departure, she sat down to share her thoughts on her experiences at Apple on LinkedIn's Hello Monday podcast.

Apple hired Ahrendts in in 2014, after Apple CEO Tim Cook listened to her April 2013 TED talk on "the positive and transformative power of human energy." Cook told her after that moment that he knew she was "supposed to be [at Apple]," which was the "pivotal moment" in her decision to leave her role as Burberry CEO and join Apple's executive team. "He was so calm, and so deep and just the way that he said it..." she said. "I'd never had that in interaction with another person."

Switching careers and leaving fashion for a tech company made her "incredibly insecure," and she says she spent first six months at Apple "fairly silent" because she wanted to listen to get her bearings and gain confidence in her role.

Get in your lane, bring your gifts to the table, right? They don't expect you to learn - you're used to being the CEO in an industry that you grew up in for 30 some odd years. You're used to knowing everything. And now you go in at a senior level and you know nothing but no, wait a minute: You know what you do.

[Apple] was a titanic retail business at that point, with 55,000 employees all over the world. And so, okay, maybe I'm here because I'm a leader and maybe I'm here because I'm a brand builder. I wouldn't go as far as say visionary, but I thrive on looking out two or three years and feeling what's coming and warning everybody and uniting everybody around a strategy to be prepared for that.

According to Ahrendts, she learned three things during her time at Apple: never forget where you came from, move faster than you could ever fathom, and never forget that you have a greater responsibility.

Ahrendts said when she joined Apple and went out to visit retail stores, she'd hear phrases like "Steve said our job was to enrich lives," and "Steve said this and wrote that." While she could have disregarded that, she didn't.

I could have thrown all that out, but [I thought] no let's codify that. Let's protect that. So, my first lesson, what I've learned from them after I hit 140 stores (what that taught me) is never forget where you came from, and use that as your foundation.

On the second lesson, that things move quickly, Ahrendts said that customers expect leadership to change and adapt with the times and the current technology. Apple wanted retail leaders to "move fast, fast." "So we got rid of all the manuals, got rid of everything, started doing three minute YouTube," said Ahrendts. "That's how we united and aligned 70,000 [retail employees] around the world."

Ahrendts' last lesson, on a greater responsibility to humanity, sounds like something that Apple CEO ‌Tim Cook‌ and other Apple executives have said many times before.

The third thing was, never forget that you have a greater responsibility. That it is not just about operating stores, it is not just about selling phones, it is not. You have a much greater responsibility. And maybe that's what Steve meant when he talked about enriching lives and, and when he talked about liberal arts and technology and the impact it could have on humanity.

I didn't dare use the word humanity, but I would talk to the teams about the impact they could make in their community. And that's what the Today at Apple experience, which is free of charge, teaches. It's not a coincidence that it's only teaching liberal arts: how to make you a better videographer or photographer or app developer or musician. Because I do believe that that's what you're going to need in the future. But I also believed that maybe liberal arts was a little bit of what was missing in the [Apple] stores.

So, you gotta look back. You have to never forget where you came from. You're just coming in as a steward in a very short period of time. You're going to turn the baton over. I always say I never ask for a title, I never ask for a raise, I've never asked for anything. All I've done is always try to do what's best for the company at that point in time and everything else just falls into place.

So I think my counsel to the next generation would be "be selfless" and you will make an incredible impact.

Ahrendts has now moved on from Apple, but she had a major impact on the way Apple Stores run and many stores around the world have been updated with new store designs that have a community focus.

Deirdre O'Brien, formerly Apple's vice president of people, has taken over Ahrendts' role and will be overseeing Apple's retail initiatives going forward.

The full interview with Ahrendts, which includes details on her early life and her time at Burberry, can be listened to on the Podcasts app, on the web, through iTunes, or wherever else podcasts are available.

Top Rated Comments

cardfan Avatar
36 months ago
One of apple’s dumbest hires.
Score: 43 Votes (Like | Disagree)
d5aqoëp Avatar
36 months ago
Glad she left (or shown the door)
Score: 38 Votes (Like | Disagree)
bluespark Avatar
36 months ago
Wow a LOT of hate for an independent and successful woman that left a large corporation. Man you guys must be loved great by the women in your families. Maybe not and hence the reason for this hate without substantiating it.
Or maybe this has nothing to do with her gender and everything to do with the fact that she was awful. Just a thought.
Score: 35 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Blackstick Avatar
36 months ago
The top comments on this thread say she’s awful. In what way? Can they try to substantiate your claims?
I can only speak for me, I worked as a Genius from 2007-14, so I was leaving as she was coming in. From my buddies that are still there or who left some time later, most of them say she made stuff worse or turned their managers into metric/number bots.

Angela gutted what used to be a highly treasured rite of passage: genius training.

No longer do geniuses train at Apple’s secret genius room classrooms in Cupertino (and later Austin and Atlanta). Nope, now they train Geniuses in the crazy Apple store’s breakroom through pretaped videos and PDFs, very nearly the same material that’s available to independent, 3rd-party authorized technicians through GSX (working in IT, I can still access this as we have a self-servicing account).

An experience I treasured in 2008, going to Cupertino for a month, getting to meet Woz one evening at the Outback Steakhouse (he buys steaks to go for his puppies), and waiting behind Steve Jobs buying his blueberry muffin at Caffe Macs with Jony Ive right by his side... this is all gone for anyone new, and Angela green-lit it.

I know the program doesn't intrinsically scale when you're hiring hundreds of Genii per month instead of dozens... but here's the real problem: Geniuses today learn how to fix your Mac or iPhone by watching videos and PDFs, if they even get to fix it- most of the laptops get shipped to Flextronics for repair. In my era, most Genius hires had a good knowledge of computers, now they tend to promote people from the floor with good sales numbers and strong net promoter feedback, which isn't bad - but there's not nearly as many diehard Mac geeks as there were.

The experience of having a veteran Apple trainer like Jim Bontempo who was there in the 1990s showing you exactly how a blackstick spudger should feel as it removes a connector and the tension of said move- all gone now. The insider knowledge that you need to feel the edge of the display clamshell for precise alignment with your finger, not your eyes as you tighten down the T6 screws, gone. Nifty tricks on how to handle stubborn ZIFs and screws... gone.

By the way, any Genius trained after about mid 2018 is learning on your stuff... not the training Macs we got to destroy/tinker with in Cupertino. If Delta Airlines did the same cost-cutting move, a novice, Day 1 pilot could be flying your plane. Thanks FAA for protecting us from folks like Angela.

Truly sad, but I suppose, inevitable.

And yes, they pay geniuses a lot less than they did in the old days - thanks to Angela. I left and became a corporate IT manager, we make a boring SAAS software package that nobody outside the industry knows about, but my salary almost tripled, and nights/weekends are off.

Bottom line, her creativity is the same as most MBAs... "cut any costs and take credit for doing so, push your best people harder, replace them with worser ones, make the work boring as a byproduct." She lacks the vision of Ron Johnson, and I do think her gender and Burberry fashion pedigree secured her spot because Apple thought it was going into the gold watch selling business.
Score: 34 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Relentless Power Avatar
36 months ago
Seems like a really strong/educated lady with a lot of extensive history in the retail industry. Being she used to work for Burberry as the CEO prior to Apple, I’m sure she has a bright future no matter what she does. Good luck to her.
Score: 30 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DeepIn2U Avatar
36 months ago
Glad she left (or shown the door)
I'm sure she stuffed her pockets full of free snacks and took rolls of tape on her way out. :p
This sums it up:
Wow a LOT of hate for an independent and successful woman that left a large corporation. Man you guys must be loved great by the women in your families. Maybe not and hence the reason for this hate without substantiating it.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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