Apple’s retail SVP Angela Ahrendts and Instagram COO Marne Levine both had dream jobs already, and when the world’s top tech firms came calling, neither was interested.
Ahrendts ran luxury house Burberry and had been widely credited with turning the business around, while Levine was in the White House in “arguably [her] dream job” working on economic policy.
Yet both would ultimately be convinced to move to tech. How they were persuaded to do so was revealed at this week’s Most Powerful Women summit run annually by Fortune magazine.
Ahrendts said she was “incredibly honoured” to hear from Tim Cook and to have a chance to meet him; he proved “patient and persistent” in luring her to Cupertino.
“When Tim called the first time I said thank you very much, I’m incredibly honoured, but I have the greatest job in the world so no thank you,” she said.
”The very first time we chatted I was finally home [to the US] for the holidays. I was living in London for almost nine years and I think they knew we were going to be home so they said will you please fly out and meet Tim?
“It was an honour to meet him. I admired everything he was doing at Apple, but my mission was to talk him out of me.”
Ahrendts started by telling Cook she was “absolutely not a techie”.
“He was just so calm and he shook his head and he said, ‘I think we have 10,000 of those, I think we’re covered there’,” Ahrendts recalled.
“And then I said, ‘But you don’t understand, I’m not actually a great retailer. We do so much more than that [at Burberry], and he just very calmly said, ‘You know, last time I looked we had the most productive stores in the world so I think we’ve got some really good operators, too’.
“At one point he just looked at me and said, ‘You know you’re supposed to be here’. And I said, ‘How do you know that?’ And he said, ‘Because I watched your TED talk and trust me, you’re supposed to be here’.”
“I was still trying to talk him out of it, so in one of the emails I kind of proposed something that I thought might delay him a couple of months,” she said.
“I sent a very nice, gracious, humble email – thank you so much etc.and if you ever would consider the retail stores and integrating those with the online business, because that’s the lens I see the world through – at Burberry we did everything digital-first – and then wanted to make sure they did something even greater everywhere that they played, then of course I would have to consider.
“About five minutes later I get an email back from Tim – ‘Well, I hadn’t thought of it, but I love it.”
Ahrendts journey from Burberry to Apple had begun.
“I was in what was arguably my dream job working at the White House on economic policy and I was very happy,” Levine said.
“I was there for about two years, and Sheryl Sandberg called me and said, ‘We’re looking for somebody to run global policy at Facebook, would you ever be interested in talking to us about this role?’ And I said, ‘No, absolutely not’.
“And the reason was I thought I would never want to do policy for a company, and I was also happy in my role.”
However, when she got home that night – “I wish I could say it was at dinner time but it was more like around 11 or 12”, Levine found herself in conversation with her husband.
“I told him about the conversation with Sheryl, and he stopped me and said, ‘You did what?’,” she recalled.
“I said, ‘No, I’m really not interested in doing policy for a company’ and he said, ‘Marne, you really need to be imaginative about what it would be like to do policy for a company like Facebook.’
“Actually if I’m really being honest with you, what he said was, ‘You’re being a lazy thinker about what it’s like. Don’t be a lazy thinker’.
“That was some tough love. However, what it did was it got me thinking about what it would be like to do policy for a company like Facebook.”
What she saw was a company that was changing the way people communicated, “giving voice to the voiceless, empowering anyone to connect with somebody else, and making the world more open and transparent.”
“It was doing a ton to fuel businesses, and it was doing a lot for human rights, and those were many of the reasons that I went to the White House in the first place,” Levine said.
“I had gone into policy and politics because I wanted to be able to use policy to affect people’s lives positively on a broad scale, and what I was realising is that technology platforms like Facebook and Instagram gave the same potential and ability.”
Levine would go on to serve as Facebook’s Vice President of Global Public Policy from 2010 to 2014. She is presently COO of Instagram.