Having jumped to Apple in 2014 after eight years as CEO of Burberry, Angela Ahrendts talks with Fast Company’s Rick Tetzeli about how Tim Cook is building on Apple’s culture.
Fast Company: Coming to Apple, did you feel you were about to take on a sort of monstrous job? How have you gone about improving morale in a workforce of 60,000?
Angela Ahrendts: In the first six months I was able to hit 40 different markets and spend time with the leaders. An amazing culture was already built and an amazing foundation. I would first of all just listen and learn. And then you start in your own mind to think where you can add value—you’re uniting people, you’re getting them to collaborate. You’re building trust. That alone is empowering.
We just ended the year with the highest retention rates we’ve ever had: 81%. And the feedback [from Apple Store employees is that it’s] because they feel connected. They feel like one Apple. They don’t feel like they’re just somebody over here working with customers. I don’t see them as retail employees. I see them as executives in the company who are touching the customers with the products that Jony [Ive] and the team took years to build. Somebody has to deliver it to the customer in a wonderful way.
FC: Do the folks in the stores feel something similar to the folks in Cupertino—a shared pride in the company?
AA: The thing I didn’t know before I came in—a month in, I told my husband, “I now know why this is one of the most successful companies on the planet: Because the culture is so strong. The pride, the protection, the values.” The company was built to change people’s lives. That foundation, that service mentality, that drive to continue to change lives—that is a core value in the company. And Tim [Cook] then has added his on: He says it’s also our responsibility to leave it better than we found it. So you have these two amazing pillars and a culture built around that. It’s the same in retail and in [Cupertino]. That is the underlying mission, and how could you know that unless you’re inside? But it is deeper than you would ever imagine.