Angela Ahrendts: Her first post-Apple interview

May 6, 2019 by Steven M. Peters

Excerpted from Ahrendts’ Hello Monday podcast with LinkedIn’s Jessi Hempel:


On when Tim Cook pursued her for the job of senior VP for retail:

I had done a TED talk in April on human energy, love, and building trust. So by the time I met with [Tim], he said, “I listened to your TED talk.” And, just the way that he said it, he said, “You know, you’re supposed to be here.” And I’m like “How do you know that?”

Tim goes, “I don’t know, but I just know you’re supposed to be here.”

I’d never had that in an interaction with a person, especially at his level. That was the pivotal moment. You know, I was over nine and a half years at Burberry at that stage. Was I supposed to be there after 10 years – or was I supposed to go back to America and try something new?

I was, on my own accord, incredibly insecure. I’m 54 years old, and it’s Apple, for God’s sake! I don’t speak that language. I am not a left brain engineer operator. I mean, I could talk myself out of it forever.

On her first six months at Apple:

The first six months are always incredibly exciting and I think you’re just honored and proud and grateful. But, I also tend to go fairly silent because I need to listen and learn. My dad used to always say, I think it’s a Mark Twain quote, “Better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and relieve them of all doubt.” So that was like haunting me in the back of my mind. And so I just listened, and listened, and listened. Actually, I wrote a LinkedIn post on it. I wrote about the first hundred days and how insecure you feel,  and what it teaches you…it teaches you that they wanted you for a reason.

On her three takeaways from leaving Apple:

One: never forget where you came from. And what I mean by that is no different than what I did at Burberry. We looked back, because that’s your foundation, right?  When I came to Apple, I’d go out in the field and they’d talk about, “Steve said our job was to enrich lives” And “Steve said this and wrote that.” 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.

The second thing was move faster than you could ever fathom because they’re waiting, and they see how much their technology is changing everything. They’re [the consumer] living on Uber, they’re staying at Airbnb, right? They’re living on Youtube and Instagram. They expect your leadership to be just like that because that’s the world that they are living in today. So you can’t wait. I told the leaders very early on, move fast, fast. So we got rid of all the manuals, got rid of everything, started doing three minute YouTube. That’s how we united and aligned 70,000 people (Apple Retail employees) around the world.

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.

The full interview is available here.

My take: Ahrendts is not an easy interview. I know, I’ve tried. Kudos to my old friend (Fortune colleague and Oberlin grad) Jessi Hempel.

See also: Angela Ahrendts is leaving Apple in April