You’ll forgive Elizabeth DiGennaro and Vanessa Ramos if they adopt a touch of fangirl when talking about Ball State alumna Angela Ahrendts.
The two were among a group of Miller College of Business students who had the opportunity to meet Ahrendts , ’81 LHD ’10, at a recent event in Indianapolis that featured the senior vice president of retail and online for Apple Inc.
And the marketing students were understandably awed.
“With each person, she shook our hand and made direct eye contact while we were introducing ourselves,” said DiGennaro, a senior from outside Cincinnati. “For those moments, she made me feel as if we were the only two people there, and that I was important. This is why I believe she has been so successful — she inspires those she works with.”
It’s a story that’s been repeated over the years and across the miles, from Ahrendts’ days starting out with fashion designer Donna Karan — she graduated with a fashion merchandising degree from the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences — to her time with what is now Kate Spade New York, to her role as CEO at Burberry, to her move just two years ago to Apple.
DiGennaro’s right that Ahrendts believes in the power of a team working as one toward the greater good.
“You will always have people smarter than you, more experienced than you, and that’s what makes an incredible team,” Ahrendts told the crowd in Indianapolis. “Everyone has a purpose; everyone has value. … You can’t do it all on your own.”
Team members taking time to get to know one another and listen to one another is a standard Ahrendts strategy that she largely credits to her parents and large family — she’s one of six children who grew up in New Palestine, Indiana. The house was noisy and full of love and learning that didn’t stop when the kids left home.
“My father used to always say, ‘Ask questions; don’t make assumptions,’ ” Ahrendts told the crowd, adding that her parents came to visit her in New York while she was with Donna Karan.
After giving her folks a tour and having them sit in on some team meetings, she left them briefly in her office.
“I went back in, there was a little sign on the bulletin board that said ‘listen.’ That was probably (my father’s) way of telling me that I was talking too much at a previous meeting.”
Ahrendts’ willingness to share stories of the obstacles she’s overcome throughout her career “was comforting to hear,” said Ramos, a sophomore from the Chicago area.
“Even Angela Ahrendts, a poster child for success, faced and continues to face challenges in her life,” she said. “She’s so humble, aware of her beginnings, acknowledging her self-doubt and that we all face obstacles in our lives. Her story is so mortal, so memorable. That’s what I admired most — her honesty.”