Company Culture Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 125 – Company Culture Lessons From Apple, Burberry, Google, And Uber

Dear Leaders, today I want to share tips and lessons directly from leaders from Burberry, Apple, Google and Uber. 

The Backstory: At the recent Masters of Scale Summit, there was a roundtable discussion that was shared as a podcast, it featured Former Burberry and Apple Leader Angela Ahrendts, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi & Former CEO, then Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt. 

Three powerhouses all share their experiences that can help to change leadership behaviours to positively change the business around you. 

Below are my takeaways, I do strongly recommend you listen (embedded below) yourself as there are some real nuggets in here that will apply to your business specifically: 

Angela Ahrendts Culture Lessons & Tips: While at Apple and Burberry: 

  • Being authentic – demonstrating that work and life go hand in hand (a great story of when her daughter calls her in the middle of her first video message to the Apple team)
  • Going against the grain was difficult but essential when at Apple, one learning Anglea took from Burberry to Apple was often you have to go against old traits or behaviours to make real change within an organisation. 
  • Document culture in onboarding – responsibilities doc and report is essential to show how you work and act 

Dara Khosrowshahi Culture Lessons & Tips At Uber & Their Turnaround: 

  • Culture must be listened to but your identity has to be strong and enforced
  • People opt-in – they are default opt-out, to get everyone together they have to decide to opt-in 
  • You have to understand that face time and being seen to live and drive the culture change in a turnaround business like Uber (which had to reconstruct its culture) is so important, especially when you feel like you are forcing it 
  • There is a massive difference between management and leadership (leading with vision) – many managers will never be leaders 

Eric Schmidt Culture Lessons & Tips While at Novell & Google 

  • Having the right partners and partnerships is vitally important – it helped to drive $12m in revenue when a tech worker moved into his office (when he was CEO at Google) when Eric wasn’t there much (well worth listening to the story on audio)
  • Learn to understand the existing culture before implementing the change or inviting people to 30-minute meetings without an agenda (people might think they are being fired as that was the culture of non-agenda 30-minute meetings)
  • Hiring the smartest people isn’t enough, you have to guide them and then get out of their way – this is where I often disagree, culture has to be shaped and then ensure it is followed especially by influential people, when they are treated slightly differently when you are either deemed the smartest or best at what you do within the business, no a-hole behaviour should be tolerated. 

One main section that stood out for me was “permission to guide the culture” was something everyone agreed on.  This is my challenge to how to shape company cultures in most organisations whatever size you operate. 

Most of what you have likely heard me say in leaders letters over the last two years has been you have to create the company culture by creating the right environments to help to create the company compass for everyone to follow and ensuring everyone understands how to make the right decisions and act in the right ways to then be rewarded for the right behaviours. 

If you do not pair company culture and company strategy, culture will become a second-class citizen and become an afterthought, then an agenda item that is often deprioritised. In almost every business culture is being ripped apart from people leaving the business, from reducing headcount and making operational efficiencies that many cannot, unfortunately, explain away from a 9-box matrix. 

Often by suggesting you need permission to guide the company it suggests you need permission from everyone to do this, when there is no compass and no rights and wrongs formally outlined, often you have to create these and then adapt as you evolve. Very often the hardest and most challenging decisions by leaders are the people-first decisions and taking that first step to reshape how your business strategy can operate with internal customers (your people) as an essential pillar of your business. 

Listen and read the full transcript: 

Have a great week and allow some of these big companies’ stories to shape how you might be planning a change for the end of this year and into next year.


Danny Denhard

Essential Follow On Culture & Leadership Reading