To most, the small storage area under the stairs of the modest home in New Palestine, Indiana was of little importance. But to Angela Ahrendts, it was a refuge – a place where she could find peace and quiet – a place to be alone with her thoughts and dreams. Being one of six children, such solitude was a rare treat.
Perhaps it was in that place of serenity that Angela learned to harness her personal energy. Perhaps it was growing up in the Midwest with its core values of hard work and integrity. Maybe she honed her skills while leading cheers in high school, sewing, or creating collages to channel her sense of fashion.
Whatever the source of the ability to embrace and focus her personal energy – it has served her well. In turn, it has also served well the companies who’ve hired her.
Angela knew from an early age that fashion was her passion – and future. The yearbook from New Palestine High School made that quite evident. In pursuit of her vision, she attended Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana – earning a degree in Merchandising and Marketing. After graduating in 1981, her next move was to the fashion capital of the U.S. – New York City.
There, she worked for a string of fashion related companies, most notably Donna Karan (DKNY), reaching the position of president. It was there that she met Christopher Bailey, a co-worker who would eventually have an enormous impact on Angela’s life. By 1998, her career had led her to the position of vice-president of merchandising and design for Liz Claiborne, Inc. In that role, she was responsible for their 22 brands. One of those fashion names was Juicy Couture, a brand which would become a global success under the leadership of Ahrendts.
As her professional career flourished, so did her personal life. She first met George Couch in elementary school. Without knowing it at first, they were destined to be a couple for life. As adults, their’s was a long-distance relationship – one that survived seventeen years, until George eventually moved to New York. Such a relationship can survive – and flourish – only through commitment, trust, love, and understanding. Marrying in their 30’s, the couple has three children – their son, Jennings, and two daughters Sommer and Angelina.
Angela Ahrendts was settled comfortably in New York – both with family and career – but that would soon change.
Remember Christopher Bailey? His career had also flourished, leading him to be the top designer at Burberry in England. Leveraging his character and talent, Burberry was able to convince Ahrendts to accept the position of CEO at Burberry. Her influence played a significant role in the turnaround of Burberry, as chronicled in my post in 2015 – Burberry – Building a Brand in the Trenches.
Once again, her leadership, talent, and success were recognized – leading to another unsolicited career opportunity. In 2014, she received a call from Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, courting her to make a move to that company as head of Retail and Online Stores. Once again, Ahrendts faced a difficult decision.
She had just become the highest paid person, of either gender, in all of Britain with a salary of $26.3 million (US). Queen Elizabeth II had bestowed on Ahrendts, the title of honorary Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) for her contribution to British business. Again, career and family were comfortably settled.
But this was Apple. This was the company she once compared with Burberry by stating: “They’re a brilliant design company working to create a lifestyle, and that’s the way I see us.” After a lengthy visit with Cook, Angela Ahrendts accepted the position with Apple. As big a fan of Apple as Ahrendts was, what ultimately determined her decision were the integrity and core values of the CEO, Tim Cook. He, in turn, knew that she was no techie – rather, he hired her for her energy, her ability to motivate, and her leadership skills.
Angela Ahrendts brought her values, vision, and energy to Apple – not for the money (though her compensation was truly significant) – but because she and Cook shared values – they shared a vision.
Apple stores had not been redesigned since Steve Jobs opened the first one in 2005. Ahrendts’ vision for Apple retail and online is ambitious – and well underway. She views Apple stores as an extension of the product line. The building, new screens, areas for meetings and classes are the hardware. The software is what goes on in the stores – more service, knowledge, and engagement. The Genius Bar has become the Genius Grove, lined with trees and featuring additional staffers called “Creative Pros” who specialize in music and photography.
The software is referred to as Today at Apple. Ahrendts visions the Apple stores becoming a gathering place similar to what Starbucks has created – but with more appeal to Gen X. Those who believe that this remake of Apple stores is merely ‘window dressing’ had better take a more thorough look at the consistent successes which comprise Angela Ahrendts’ career.
Ahrendts’ core values are the platform that have allowed her to embrace her passion, own her purpose, and be persistent. It’s her character, core values, vision and energy that combine to make Angela Ahrendts a fearless brand.
There’s so much to learn from Angela Ahrendts – about business – about life in general.
Character – Authentic, genuine, trustworthy, dependable, consistent – these are a few of the traits which define Ahrendts’ character. An adage I suspect she firmly believes is “To thine own self be true!” Ahrendts has always been true to her passion and her purpose. She has never chased a job – nor has she chased money – though incredible jobs and vast sums of money have come her way. Her experience is proof positive that money is not the target – rather, it’s the reward for hitting the target.
Core Values – It wasn’t until Ahrendts was asked to give the commencement address at Ball State University that she came to realize that her success was a direct result of her core values -those instilled in her by her parents back in New Palestine. At the age of 50, she spent 5 months reflecting on the topic of success in preparation for her speech – a talk she titled From The Heart (click to read).
Compassion – Her father often told Angela, “You can teach people anything, but you cannot teach them to care.” Caring – compassion – is a key value for Ahrendts. She strives to put herself in the other’s shoes – to be aware of and sensitive to her impact on them.
Humility – Another nugget from her father is defining humility as being able to look at a photograph and see yourself last.
Ambition – It was Angela’s mother who instilled in her a sense of striving to be the best. When Angela responded “Fine.” when asked how things were, her mother’s reply would be “I’m not raising you to be fine.”
Vision –At every point in her career, Ahrendts had a vision about what the company could be – should be. She had a vision for Juicy Couture – it became a global brand. She and Christopher Bailey shared a vision for Burberry – a turnaround many doubted could succeed. Now, she is fulfilling a vision for Apple, one she shares with Tim Cook. Her visions start in what she calls a Dream State – as she says “…envisioning in your mind you are creating your life road map.”
Energy – When Ahrendts was first at Burberry, an outside consulting firm reported to her board that the plan she had presented had about a 5% chance of success. Years later, she smiled and said simply: “They didn’t account for energy.” She puts it this way on LinkedIn: “Passionate, positive human energy can provide a counterbalance to the disruptive negative forces of an age of unprecedented change. Through it comes confidence, inspiration and the power to transform things for the better.” To hear more, listen to her TEDx talk The Power of Human Energy.
Clearly, Angela Ahrendts has been wildly successful. Her success is not measured on a financial scale – rather it’s measured on how true she’s been to her character, core values, passion, and purpose. If we are able to follow her lead and focus on our character, core values et al, we too can realize an almost immeasurable level of success.