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Cheline Jaidar - Apple's Alchemist

by Music Tech Fest | MTF Podcast

After years spent juggling a corporate creative recruiting career and social advocacy work with the homeless & victims of domestic violence, Cheline Jaidar landed a key position with Apple. During her time there, she was instrumental in putting together the industrial design team, finding the best people to run iTunes Europe and ensuring that the culture at the top levels had all the right ingredients.

Having now left the organisation after 18 years, Cheline’s taking a step back, looking at what’s been achieved - and what it means to put the right people in the right place at the right time in what has grown to be a TRILLION dollar company with a phenomenal cultural impact.

AI Transcription

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

people, apple, itunes, theatre, music, person, graphic design, building, find, group, alchemist, feel, trusting, design, industrial design, general, directive, culture, important, role

SPEAKERS

Andrew Dubber, Cheline Jaidar

 

Andrew Dubber 

Hi, I’m Dubber. I’m the director of Music Tech Fest, and this is the MTF podcast. Right now in Austin, Texas. Chilene Jaidar is on sabbatical. She was until fairly recently, the employee of Cupertino based trillion dollar tech giant apple. And for a long time was pretty much at its core. Many of the people who made that company what it is today are people that she put there. If for instance, you’re on the industrial design team, and your name is not Jonathan Ive, then chances are pretty good that Chilene’s, the person who found you interviewed you and gave you that gig efficiently. The title was something along the lines of head of talent development, which makes it sounds somewhat corporate managerial and a little administrative. When really, it’s more interesting than that. It involves intuition, chemistry, personal connection, and putting the right ingredients together. alchemy, perhaps. Cheline, thanks so much for doing this. Happy to be here. So you were an alchemist at Apple. What does that mean?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

Well, it was my official title. But I was explaining to and I’ve done this so many times in my life, explaining to people what I do, which, in essence, if you boil it down, it’s connecting people of like mind, and with the hope that when you bring them together, something kind of more beautiful or more interesting comes out of the combination of two entities. And I was explaining this to a friend of mine, who’s an artist, she’s a glassblower. And she says, Oh, well, you’re an alchemist. And it just stuck. And so this is years ago, I put that on my business cards. I don’t even use business cards anymore. But in the early days, we did. And what’s so interesting about it is that I kind of did it as a lark, and I would give it to people and try to explain what I did. And then as soon as I gave him the car, they go, Oh, okay, now I get it.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Right, right. When was this? When are we talking? The early days? You said

 

Cheline Jaidar 

the early days? Yes. 2001? Right.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Yes. So tell me what’s going on an apple in 2001.

 

Cheline Jaidar 

And this is early, early, MacBook times, this is the very beginning of starting retail stores, the idea of retail stores is coming about and how to how to define and express that experience. And I remember that was actually how I came aboard, I ended up doing a contract, helping them find people in to, to kind of manage the these retail environments. And it was a contract job, I was living in LA at the time, I didn’t think anything more was going to come of it. And but that was that was the very, very, that was my very beginning of that. And then my boss at the time, asked me to fly up to San Francisco and meet the design group. And I sat down with Jonathan, I have some of the other designers, some other people in talent. And I heard them talking about what they were doing, what they were designing what their plans were, and I just had this feeling of, I don’t know what it is that I can offer. I don’t know if everything in my background is going to help but I will use whatever it is that I have in order to help them do whatever it is that they need to do. And it was a physical, visceral reaction. I haven’t had many of those in my life. So I know when they happen. And it was a very strong like, I need to work with these people. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I will learn whatever it is, I need to learn to do that.

 

Andrew Dubber 

What was in your background?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

That’s a good question. A lot of different things at the time that I was recruited to Apple by my old mentor, or he’s an he’s a current and old mentor, but old boss. And I was had just finished a yoga teachers training. And I was producing independent theatre with the evidence room, neither of which we’re paying, and but were full passions of mine and figuring out what I was going to do next. And I needed a paying job. So I went to my boss, my old boss, he wasn’t my boss at the time. And I said, Hey, I need a recruiting job. Will you give me a reference for this kind of side recruiting job in LA and that’s just something to do to make money to support these other passions of mine and he said what if you’re going to do recruiting come and work for me at Apple? And that’s kind of when that whole thing came up of apple? I don’t know anything about computers. I you know, and and he’s like, Jr, you know, people and that was that.

 

Andrew Dubber 

So was it computers that you were doing? I mean, is it now so

 

Cheline Jaidar 

it’s so funny, but that was what I thought in my head. I’m thinking Apple I didn’t I wasn’t one of those people. That was an apple fanatic. I didn’t come from a background of traditional design. So in my head, it was a computer company. I don’t know anything about that, that seems really technical. And of course, it wasn’t at all that way.

 

Andrew Dubber 

So what sort of people were you recruiting?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

When I started? Or at my general, like, the whole time in

 

Andrew Dubber 

your career at Apple? What was sort of the main kinds of people? Because it sounds like it was more creative than technical?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

Yes, definitely. But I, you know, I kind of think that a good, you know, solid recruiter can recruit almost anything, you just immerse yourself in the environment, and you can find almost anything. But, um, but I was, was brought in, and that was that that trip to San Francisco to work with the Industrial Design Group. So that was the first kind of official group that I worked with as a full time employee with Apple. And that dominated most of my time. And so I was looking specifically at that time for industrial designers. So that’s how it started. And as I as working as kind of a lone ranger with them, for I’m trying to think I don’t even know if it was a year, and people would kind of reach out saying, Oh, she does creative she does. She works with designers. Can we have her over here. And we’re redoing the graphic design group, can she come and work with us for a little bit. And so I went to work with graphic design help them they were a splinter group of different external and internal teams, and some people wanted to leave and they didn’t have a clear leader, they were looking to to find another kind of more creative leader and that I was brought in to help them find that role. And then I started working with that group. And then I was kind of dividing my team, my time between industrial design and graphic design. And and there were more things like that iTunes came out of I started working with iTunes, Europe, that was like, really almost a startup, it felt like a startup as the graphic design in some way felt like a startup as well, because they were recreating it. So there’s when I think back at my of my career, other than the Industrial Design Group, some of this work really feels like you’re starting a startup within a very established company, but it still has that essence of building something from something very small or nothing.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Is it more about finding and employing the right individuals? Is it? Or is it more about building teams,

 

Cheline Jaidar 

I would say both. So you definitely have to find the right individuals in order to build a solid creative team. So with the Industrial Design Group, they had a very solid team from the moment that I arrived. So I wasn’t trying to create again, they they were not a startup, I was not creating the entire team. But finding individuals for them was in essence, in a way, continuing to build that team. So each individual was so important, I would say that about all the groups that I worked with at Apple, that each individual coming into the team needed to meet everybody in the team and and everybody feel comfortable about that person. So generally a consensus and, and that really, to me is one of the most important things about building a team is that there’s that consensus when you bring somebody new in,

 

Andrew Dubber 

right, would you have employed you?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

Hmm, that’s a good question. I think in the beginning Hmm. As inside the design group, or in the role and the role

 

Andrew Dubber 

and the role, would you have given you that job? A

 

Cheline Jaidar 

good question. Um, I think knowing myself and the way that I look at people, and the way I, I kind of make assessments about people, it’s less about what is this extensive background, purist background in one area, although that can be very important in some roles, and more about the whole picture. And yeah, I think I would hire me for that role. I might have Yeah, I might have done that’s an interesting thing. Yeah, it’s about I yeah, I’m not completely under percent sure. But I might intuitively I kind of feel like I would come

 

Andrew Dubber 

What do parents do and how did that shape where you ended up?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

Ah, okay. So my mother was a kindergarten teacher for almost 30 years. And so my mom, I think for as long as I can remember that just having teaching be a huge part of the household in general. My dad also was a teacher. That was not his primary role, but but He, he was a teacher in his life. But he was also officially a teacher. And he taught at UCLA for a while, but I think both of them being teachers, and informed the way that I approach, looking for talent the way I think of no learning in your work environment, and just being very motivated, I think in general, by learning, I think, yeah, I’m trying to think of I, I don’t know, it’s. So it’s a really interesting question. But I think of just the general sense of having educators and around me growing up, I think that was huge. My father, on the other was also an author, philosopher, and had a huge impact on me. And just in a sense of how I view the universe, how I view my relationship to the universe, my place in it, it’s an ongoing practice, and ongoing learning in that. So I think, being interested in people being open, that’s part of my practice is just kind of constantly practising being open. And you just, you end up finding out and learning a lot about people. When you approach things in that way, I would say those two things, kind of the philosophical side of my dad, and then the education side of both of my parents, they’re both very liberal. So there was a lot of freedom and encouragement to follow what I was interested in. I suspect

 

Andrew Dubber 

that might be part of the answer to my next question, but where did the theatre stuff come in?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

Oh, my goodness. Well, not for my parents specifically. You know, that’s one of those things that my mother, strangely enough Did, did. She wasn’t theatre, in maybe high school or something. But it wasn’t her experiences in theatre that impacted me, I’ve just always been very interested in, in theatre. And in acting, I did. I was in theatre when I was in high school, and I thought I was going to go in that direction. And I know somehow it went in a different direction. And so at a later age, I wanted to get back into it. And I, I saw a play at was the Berlin circle by the evidence room, and it’s so it moved me in such an incredible way very similar to how I experienced that Apple experience. sitting there with Jonathan Ive, I also had a different but also visceral experience with the evidence room, when seeing that play the evidence room, or the Berlin circle, and was just so incredibly moved and thought, I have not been in theatre all of these years. What they are doing is amazing. What can I do from my background? What do I have that could be helpful here, and that was a that was a group of it was a theatre group of people that everybody did everything. So the actors might sweep up, and there was a bar there after the place. So somebody was a bartender, and then they were on stage, or they were building things, and they were somebody in, you know, playing a role. So it was a wonderful theatre group. It wasn’t for extremely long period of time, but the short amount of time that I was with them made a huge impact. And so yes, so the theatre really came from, I don’t know, were watching old movies with my mom when I was a child, maybe?

 

Andrew Dubber 

Sure, yes. Tell me about the beginnings of iTunes, what the culture was like what people were trying to achieve, and you know, sort of what were the personalities that you were dealing with.

 

Cheline Jaidar 

So I can tell you about my own personal experience with iTunes, and maybe through that lens might give you some kind of insight because I wasn’t necessarily in the, in the kind of inner circle of people that were kind of deciding and the very impetus of iTunes, but I was brought in to help build out iTunes, Europe, so iTunes us was already fully formed. And so I was asked to kind of go over and as I was going over to lend it a lot for design designers, and meet with designers meet with design studios. And so that was over there. They thought, Oh, this would be a really good thing to kind of add on to what she’s already doing. So one thing that I thought I think is very interesting is is one directive that that I was given a parameter I would say is we were looking for in each country or we’re looking for a programmer, and a labour relations person. It’s the type of person was so interesting to me, they said, you know, everything’s moving in this digital way. But we’re very interested in people that have an appreciation, and an understanding of everything that’s come before, but also an openness to what is coming next and digital and everything moving forward. And it was really interesting, because that was a very clear parameter. And not a lot of people fell into that there were very extremes, there are people that were, oh, scrap everything this can be for scrap history of, of labels, and all of that it’s all about digital, and then the opposite was true. We don’t want to be digital, that’s a flash in the pan that’s not going to last and where do you go, that’s scary. They didn’t say that. But I think that it was very scary. So it was wonderful finding these people that were this wonderful combination of an appreciation, even if they, you’d find people, they’re very young, actually, that had an immense respect for labels and history of labels. But also were you know, they had grown up in digital and understood that. And then you have somebody older that had grown up in labels, and they were very, very experienced in whether its label relations or programming. And they just really were very open to digital. And I really, I think we’ve talked about this before, that it’s that wonderful kind of openness between those two worlds. And I think it requires a certain level of confidence in yourself that you can adapt to, you can carry with you what is important, historically, and music and also be open to the future. And I don’t know if that gives you a background for iTunes in general at Apple. But that was that was something that really informed my experience of looking for people in each country. And how we found the right people,

 

Andrew Dubber 

presumably, they have to know a little bit about music as well,

 

Cheline Jaidar 

a little bit about music. Yes. And what was interesting about that, too, is I don’t know that they ever gave me this directive, but I think it kind of I felt like it was it was one of those times where you get a few bits of information, and then you can fill it in. So for me, I kind of felt like, it was important that they if they were in programming, that even if they didn’t know a lot about all the different genres that they at least had respect for different genres. So if they were really into hip hop, and jazz, that they at least acknowledged that there’s quite a wide world of classical music out there, or reggae or you know, any other genre. So that’s kind of To me, it was a partner in the other directive of kind of how we, how we look for people. How important

 

Andrew Dubber 

was music to Apple at that time?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

I think it’s always really been important to Apple, I don’t think it was, Oh, this is an added thing. And I don’t want to speak for Apple in general or Steve, but I know that from what I understand about him personally, he was always very into music way before iTunes. I mean, I don’t even I don’t know his entire history around music. But the the impetus for iTunes came years before it was possible to do iTunes, but we had music, we had things around music before iTunes, we had people working in music and, and having and creating musical experience that were connected to Apple. So and, you know, I’ve Yeah, I wouldn’t want to speak anything more about that, because I don’t feel like I’m authority in that area. But I know that music as a whole was a big thing, even before iTunes. So it just kind of took off with iTunes, but it was there. Was there all along kind of waiting to kind of be born and come into fruition. Sure.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Was it big for you as well. I

 

Cheline Jaidar 

think Music has always been big for me, I’m very affected by music very affected by you know, certain music for certain times. And we were talking about this this evening, how certain music is going to stimulate you to work in a certain way certain music is going to stimulate you when you’re relaxing or meditating if you use music while you’re meditating or driving and, and I’ve always I’ve been I’ve not I’ve not been the person that collects is extensively or has, you know, a huge record collection or now even huge amount of playlists. But I’ve always been so interested in, you know what new music is coming over and also an appreciation for for all kinds of genres. But I don’t even know if there is a genre that I absolutely don’t like. I’m trying to think of one right now. might come to me by the end of our conversation but even Country and Western as we talked about, I love Western I like the old kind of country music, you know, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams. So I’m not one of those people’s Oh, I can’t stand Country and Western. Because I find a place for that as well. But yeah, I mean, this sounds so trite, I can’t imagine a life without music. But I feel like music is always around me, it’s not been my specific line of work. But I was very excited to be part of building the iTunes Europe and being immersed in, in music for that period of time. It was wonderful. And I was exposed to so much and I continue to be, but it but my love for music started before that. And before Apple two,

 

Andrew Dubber 

did you make any really bad calls on the recruitment front?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

My goodness, yes. And, you know, the bad calls that I made. Were when I went against my intuitive sense of what I should do in the circumstance. And, and I find that to be the case, almost every time that I can, I’m not going to tell you the specifics of each of those situations. But there were two very clear situations when I really didn’t feel comfortable moving forward. earlier in my career there. And I felt pressured to, to go along with what everybody really wanted. And, and I just felt there’s something just didn’t, didn’t fit, didn’t know what it was, couldn’t describe it. But it didn’t feel right. And sure enough, it was it came out to be true. And there were a couple of situations like that. But I also feel like those are opportunities to learn. So there, I didn’t feel that was a huge mistake. And this is tragic, and never going to come back from this. And, you know, is actually more Hey, this is the person that we presented, you had all the information. We all had all of the information. And what I learned is yes, when I have those feelings, they need to be investigated. And whenever I have that situation, honestly, it’s usually a case of not listening to that inner voice. Right, that inner voice is usually telling you something. Sure.

 

Andrew Dubber 

How did Apple change over the time you were there?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

got bigger. That is probably the biggest change. I mean, the most obvious change that it got bigger, and other than

 

Andrew Dubber 

culture. Hmm.

 

Cheline Jaidar 

I think that it the way it impacted the culture is true for any company that as you expand and you expand into different environments, geographically and different environments, culturally, it’s almost like you have the mothership. And as you get farther and farther away, it’s harder and harder to maintain that sense of community, that strong culture, strong connection between each other. And I think that’s something that we took very seriously from the very beginning, and tried very hard to maintain that. But I do think that it was always surprising to me when I would travel, and sit down with somebody, and describe, oh, this is kind of how we do things, how different it might be translated in a different country. And that was a real learning experience. It also helped me realise how important it is to have those kind of ongoing interactions between physical interactions to not just chats on the phone, but physically being with your cohorts in London or Tokyo, and sharing with them, you know, what you’re doing in real time in person, and it’s not always possible, but so much was translated in being with somebody and sharing the culture in that way. And when I say sharing the culture, it can be as simple as, you know, being there with the other person and sharing your own experience and your own experience at Apple, my own experience at Apple, their own experience at Apple and as exchanging that, and I felt like that, that that was a part of my role in a way because I travelled so extensively for the design group, that part of that, you know, a big part of what I was doing is representing them representing apple. So I took that very seriously and I I really tried to extend out, you know, kind of what it was I was very passionate about what we did. And what what the design group did what Apple’s doing, how it is in Cupertino how it is in the studio. And what my experiences is, that’s what I can. That’s what’s true. That’s what I can speak to. And it from what I saw it had, it had a powerful effect on people being able to hear what it’s like. And I think that kind of trend translation or transference in a way. That’s one way to build out your culture. I mean, it’s one way there are many different ways. Sure, but as

 

Andrew Dubber 

it’s essential, right, man, and as you said, as it got bigger, that sort of direct personal communication got harder and harder present, of course, yeah,

 

Cheline Jaidar 

it’s it’s harder, but it’s, it’s not unique to Apple. It’s just kind of the nature of expansion. Sure. does that

 

Andrew Dubber 

have anything to do with why you left?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

No, no, that has nothing to do with why I left? No, you know, I didn’t leave because of anything traumatic. I, it’s honestly, the main reason that I left Apple is I have a daughter here in Austin. And I she’s five years old now. And I am living in Austin, and working and travelling to Cupertino once a month, and she has no idea what I do, she can’t see, she can’t see where I work, she can’t see what I do. And I have spent, let’s see almost 18 years at Apple utilising all the cells of my body in a way, my brain, my heart, all of it. And I feel like I wanted to do something different with that with all of those aspects of myself. And I don’t know what that is yet. But I felt like those two things kind of being I wanted to be based here in Austin doing something that is clear to her. And and also utilising my mind body and soul for something different and kind of, and yeah, just kind of investigating what does that look like? What what what else can I do with these things that are me, and so much of it has been dedicated to Apple. And it’s been immensely exciting and, and challenging? And you know, it’s never boring, certainly never boring. But I yeah, it’s it, there just came a time where I thought I just I really want to take this and see what I can do with this person that is me applying it to something else.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Sure. If you were to I don’t know about write a book, but but certainly give some advice to somebody from your career an apple what what lessons would you extract and want to pass on?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

Well, one of them I think I already kind of mentioned that. Are there any things that you regret, and I think you know, the things that you were, I don’t know, if it was regret or bad call is, is really learning to trust your that inner voice, whether it’s intuition, whatever you want to call it, that there’s a reason it’s there, it’s it is trying to tell you something. And the more the you know, the The more you listen to it wouldn’t say the louder it gets. But the more you listen to it, the more clear it becomes. And the easier it is to listen to it. And you know, I don’t want to say Oh, if only I had listened to earlier, I listened to it as much as I could, whatever age I was. And I would just say to anybody, whether it’s at Apple or anywhere that the more you can open yourself up to listening to that voice, when it’s telling you something’s just not quite right here. And trusting it. It’s not just listening, but it’s trusting and going with it, trusting it making the response based on what that is. If that’s so huge. I think also, you know, as I look back at all the different people that have come to interview or meet with the group or me, I think it’s very hard to do, especially when you’re daunted by a particular group or a person, but doing your best to just be relaxed and comfortable in and of yourself when you’re coming to meet people. And I think that’s very hard for an individual to do. But maybe that was part of what I felt was my role is to help people feel comfortable, so we could see who they really are. And so if they’re coming at it from that same point of trying to just let everything else go, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be super casual. Now, it’s a fine line, but kind of trusting you and your intuition, and also kind of just being yourself, whatever meeting you’re in, you get so much more out of it. I think we’ve had so many people come in and do very elaborate presentations and very content heavy, or too image heavy. And we never really find out who they are. You want people we want people. Yeah. So if I’m giving advice to people, it’s just kind of, it’s set again, sounds so trite, but just be yourself. Because yourself is either going to work with this role or not. And if you’re confident enough to trust that you’re a valuable entity, and if we, when I was with Apple don’t appreciate that, and this isn’t the right place for you. And so there’s nothing to lose really, by being yourself. It’s either it’s gonna work or it isn’t. And the best thing to be is yourself, because if it doesn’t work with you as yourself, and it’s not the right role, gotcha.

 

Andrew Dubber 

So, in a world where people are concerned about things like data privacy, fairness to artists, planned obsolescence, this is our apple, the goodies are the batteries, huh?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

I’m the wrong person asked about that. I think that depending on the conversation, depending on the situation, you could make a case that yeah, that they they could be, I don’t know, if I would using good and bad is, it does doesn’t ever really work with me at Apple, because I kind of know them as people. And I know them. The people that I work with, are not trying to make something obsolete. And so I think that I would say, in general, I mean, you know, cuz you never know all the details and how people work. And there’s certain people that I’ve never worked with, obviously, it’s a big company. But the people that I’ve worked with are good people. And I know that their hearts are in the right place. And that’s all I can really speak to as in the end, as an individual at a huge entity. And the only people that I can really stand by would be the people that I’ve worked with directly. And those people I know, are the goodies, if you want to call them they’re not goody two shoes, but they’re the good ones.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Right? I guess the best indicator would be a year out from from leaving Apple, do you use Apple products?

 

Cheline Jaidar 

Oh, yeah, definitely. And I still have boxes that the graphic design group has, you know, over time has, has designed I’ve always kept different boxes for different products. And always keep that I mean, it’s their family for me. They they have been and will continue to be a family. So I can’t imagine. I mean, who knows, maybe I’ll use something else in the future. But at this juncture, it isn’t even something that’s crossing my mind right now. Yeah.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Cheline, thanks so much for your time. Thank you, Andrew. That’s Cheline Jaidar former alchemist at Apple. And suddenly, I asked chalene for a bit of advice for people wanting jobs. Her top tip, your CV is too long. Take some words out, take out whole sections that just seems superfluous. Then find more words that you don’t need and take them out to keep taking words out until there are no more words that you can take out. Then take out a few more words. It’s not your life story. It’s the trailer that gets people wanting to see the movie. It seems like good advice. And that’s the MTF podcast. If you got this far, then you clearly liked it. So please take a moment to give us a quick review rating or star on whatever platform you use to listen to podcasts. And we’ll catch you soon. And by the way, if you missed our special announcement last week about Örebro, go back and listen to last week’s episode or sign up to the mailing list for more news on that. In the meantime, have a great week and we’ll talk soon Cheers.

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