Apple's new retail chief advises newbies to 'stay in your lane'

Angela Ahrendts makes her first public comments as head of online and physical retail at Apple -- in a LinkedIn blog post for people transitioning to new jobs.

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Angela Ahrendts serves as head of Apple's online and physical retail stores. Apple

Angela Ahrendts may be the new kid in town at Apple, but she's already sharing some tips she's learned.

The executive, who took over as head of Apple's online and retail stores nearly two months ago, on Monday posted advice on LinkedIn for people starting new jobs.

Her main point: Be confident in what you know and remember that the initial image you present won't go away.

"First impressions are truly lasting and if you want to overthink anything, overthink how others are perceiving you and your leadership," she said. "Are they quickly lining up to follow you? This could single-handedly determine the speed of your assimilation and the company's success."

The post by Ahrendts -- the only woman on CEO Tim Cook's executive team -- is an unusual one. Apple's executives are notorious for being secretive and press shy, rarely granting interviews or speaking publicly. However, they have started speaking out more often (even Cook tweets), and Ahrendts has long been a more forward executive. She spoke with the press many times during her tenure as Burberry's CEO and engaged with customers and others on social media. Ahrendts also has posted several other blogs on LinkedIn over the past year.

In October, Apple named the 53-year-old as senior vice president of retail and online stores, saying at the time that she would join the company in "the spring." Ahrendts' arrival came at a critical time for the Cupertino, Calif., company. Its March quarter saw strong profits aided by surprisingly strong iPhone sales, but its iPad sales and revenue forecast were disappointing. While millions are still eagerly awaiting the next iPhone, the company is facing an assault on its main money maker, with rivals such as Samsung and HTC pressuring it in the premium phone segment and upstarts such as Huawei and Xiaomi scooping up the next billion mobile customers.

Ahrendts has been tasked with helping revitalize sales in both physical and online stores. Growth has slowed in recent quarters, and Apple also faced upheaval in its retail operations.

In addition to his day job as CEO, Cook led the retail business for more than a year after firing retail chief John Browett in October 2012 after just six months on the job. Browett, former chief of British electronics retailer Dixons, admitted he didn't fit in with Apple's culture. He replaced Ron Johnson, the executive credited with much of Apple's retail success, after Johnson left in 2011 to become J.C. Penney's CEO. (Johnson was ousted as Penney's chief in April 2013 for what some deemed a misguided makeover of the budget-minded retailer.)

Ahrendts said in the LinkedIn blog post that her first month at Apple has caused her to reflect on what it's like to start a new job. It can be "exciting, challenging, and sometimes disorienting," she said, but she has learned a few key points to ensure smooth transitions.

First, she advises people to "stay in your lane." People are hired by companies for a reason, and they shouldn't worry about trying to learn everything about the new company on the first day.

"It's human nature to feel insecure about everything you 'don't know,'" Ahrendts said. "By staying focused on your core competencies you will be able to contribute much sooner, add greater value long term, and enjoy and have more peace especially in the early days."

She also advises people to ask questions -- both personal and professional. It can "break down barriers" and "show willingness to understand and learn," Ahrendts said, as well as build relationships and trust.

"Questions show humility, acknowledgement and respect for the past, and give you greater insights into both the business and individuals," she said.

And people also should trust their instincts and emotions. "Never will your objectivity be as clear or your instincts sharper than in the first 30-90 days," Ahrendts said. She also quoted American poet Maya Angelou by saying that "people will never forget how you made them feel."

"I would argue this is even more important in the early days," Ahrendts said.

 

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