When Apple approached former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts to lead its massive retail business, she wasn’t sure if it was the right move for her.
But she learned a lot from the experience, which she reflected on when speaking with LinkedIn’s Jessi Hempel on the Hello Monday podcast.
Her biggest takeaways boil down to three distinct lessons: don’t forget where you came from, move faster than you could ever fathom, and never forget that you have a greater responsibility.
When speaking to that first lesson, Ahrendts described how she observed the way Apple employees would often reference the ideals and values established by late Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs. “I could have thrown all that out, but [I thought] ‘No, let’s codify that,'” she said. “Let’s protect that. . . What I’ve learned from them after I hit 140 stores is never forget where you came from, and use that as your foundation.”
Working in a senior leadership role at a technology company like Apple also showed Ahrendts the importance of moving quickly, especially in an age during which our attention is dominated by apps like Instagram, YouTube, and Uber. “I told the leaders very early on, move fast, fast,” she said. “So we got rid of all the manuals, got rid of everything, started doing 3-minute YouTube. That’s how we united and aligned 70,000 people around the world.”
She also learned that leading Apple’s retail efforts meant a lot more than just selling iPhones. “The third thing was, never forget that you have a greater responsibility,” she said. That line of thinking fits in with the Today At Apple program spearheaded by Ahrendts, which offers free classes in areas like photography, video, and music production. “I would talk to the teams about the impact they could make in their community,” she said.
Yet it’s unclear whether Ahrendts’ initiatives were well-received at Apple. Ahrendts’ conversation with Hempel came just before Bloomberg published a story suggesting some of the changes made to Apple’s retail operation under her leadership were controversial, particularly her revamp of the Genius Bar.
Apple announced in February that Ahrendts would be leaving the company in April, although it did not elaborate on why other than to say she was departing for “new personal and professional pursuits.” Longtime Apple human resources executive Deirdre O’Brien is taking over Ahrendts’ post in a new expanded role called senior vice president of retail and people.
Ahrendts was hired in 2013 — the year before the first Apple Watch’s debut — to oversee the company’s strategic direction for its online and retail stores. With a total compensation of $26.5 million in 2018, she was one of the company’s highest-paid executives, according to a proxy statement from Apple.
Ahrendts has not said what she will do next. But if her comments to Hempel hold true, not having a plan may be a good thing. “[If] you make too perfect of a plan, you’re going to miss all of the other opportunities,” she said. “Because you’re going to turn them off and say no because you’re trying to live by your plan.”