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Real Humans of Apple: Richie Huang, Northwestern Kellogg ’19, Operations Program Manager

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Apple is the world’s largest tech company. They started with personal computers in the 1970s, then continuously evolved, developing consumer electronics—the iPod, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch and more—that are now ubiquitous. As of January 2018, the world’s population uses over 1.3 billion Apple products.  So, what skills does it take to thrive at the tech giant?  In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, we find out from Richie Huang, an alumnus of Northwestern Kellogg and operations program manager at Apple.

Read on for his story about choosing Kellogg’s MMM program, which confers an MBA from Kellogg and an M.S. in Design Innovation from Northwestern’s school of engineering and applied science. He also shares his lessons about recruiting, networking and more.

Richie Huang, Northwestern ’19, Operations Program Manager

Richie Huang, Northwestern Kellogg MBA/M.S. ’19, Operations Program Manager at Apple

Age: 29
Hometown: Shandong, China
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Denison University, Double major: Economics, and International Studies
Graduate Business School and Concentration: Kellogg School of Management, MMM dual degree program
Pre-MBA Work Experience: 4 years, hardware startup
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 1 year, consumer electronics

Why did you choose to attend business school?
I had always been very passionate about building new products and bringing them to market. After college, I started my career in consumer startups. In that journey, I worked with many startup founders, and some of them had MBAs.

I started talking to them about how a business education may have helped them with their entrepreneurship experience. One thing that stood out to me was the importance of thoughtful business strategy and financial planning both at the very beginning stage and throughout the evolution of a product.

Working in a startup environment had taught me valuable problem solving skills, but I realized I also needed a more systematic business understanding in order to create products that are built to last. That’s when I decided to attend business school.

Why Kellogg? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
I chose Kellogg because of the, MMM program which brings a unique human-centric perspective to business education. By the time I decided to apply to business school, I knew leading product innovation would be a long-term career goal for me. So I wanted to enroll in a program that had a dual focus: innovation and business. The unique value proposition (a solid innovation curriculum and a cohort of like-minded people) of the MMM program definitely sold me on that.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
The Kellogg MBA experience puts a very big emphasis on leadership. Throughout the two years, there were numerous opportunities for me to stand up and lead, from class projects to case competitions, from club leadership to large-scale events. When you are surrounded by driven, talented and competent people, leadership becomes more than making sure individual tasks are completed.

It is about defining, articulating, and reminding people what the shared vision is, and empowering everyone (including myself) to build upon it. In my current career, we often run into obstacles where people struggles to see a clear path. The Kellogg experience has prepared me to not hide behind the “I’m new” excuse, but to have the courage to stand up and lead the way.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I interned at Apple as an Operations Program Manager. I had never worked in a company that was anywhere near the size of Apple before. Frankly, I thought I would not like working in a company that large. Quite surprisingly, I found many aspects of Apple to be similar to a startup: things move super fast; teams are nimble and scrappy when it comes to solving new problems; and thinking outside of the box is highly encourage (if not a must). I was challenged and enjoyed every single day of my twelve-week internship. That made the full-time offer decision a lot easier for me.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
The biggest factor is probably the team and the people I’d be working with. I really enjoyed my internship with this team and knew I would be able to continue growing and having fun after I joined as a full-timer. Also, coming from a product background, I have always been a huge fan of Apple designs. To me, joining Apple means the cool factor is off the chart.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Reach out to many alumni in your dream company/role and have genuine and meaningful conversations with them. It’s the best way to learn about a job and a career path that you are interested in.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
Be more focused and don’t just follow the crowd! I knew I wanted to join a tech or product company for full-time, but I still jumped on the consulting recruiting bandwagon and went with it. I was lucky that my on-campus recruiting had been quite successful.

But since I knew I didn’t want to work in consulting, getting a consulting offer wouldn’t make the summer internship decision any easier. The point is, figuring out where you truly want to work can help save you a lot of time and give you more edge to land your real dream internship.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
The Apple final round fly-in is a very interesting format. There is a hiring team/candidate mutual selection at the end where both candidates and hiring teams are asked to rank their top choices. You would only get an offer if there’s a mutual match.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
Build better relationships with professors, ones that would allow you to just pick up the phone and iMessage them when you meet a tough real-life (business) challenge in a realm that you know they would be experts in.

What’s the best thing about working for your current employer?
Free and/or discounted Apple products!

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.