Director - Digital Product Management, GE Aviation
Heather is a home-grown mid-western girl. She went to Purdue University in Indiana where she studied Mechanical Engineering, and landed a job with GE Aviation in Cincinnati, OH straight out of school. She’s been there for over 16 years now, moving mountains in an environment that is traditional and definitely bureaucratic, as many long-standing, successful organizations are. She happily admits that her wife and two small children are priority number one.
wolf & heron: Tell me a little about the values that are important to you.
Healther Apple: For me, it’s about impact first. People say that results matter, but for me it’s impact. I want to be able to see and feel my contribution at home and at work. Then it’s integrity. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working at GE. Integrity is a big GE thing too, and it resonates with me. Then it’s my family. When I’m gone, my gravestone isn’t going to say anything about the work I did. To me, the things that really matter are outside of the office, and that’s what helps keep me grounded. Finally, it’s diversity - diversity of thought, backgrounds, everything! I know I’m better when my team isn’t like me… I know that’s sometimes harder, but it’s always better.
w&h: What are you hoping to achieve?
HA: I’d bring it back to my number one value - impact. I want to be able to look back and see that I made a contribution - especially with my kids and the rest of my family - but with all the people around me. At work, what I care about most is helping other people grow. I don’t aspire to be a VP of an org. Instead want to have impact from where I am. I want to say “I worked hard, I did it with integrity, and without sacrificing my family. I was able to contribute to A, B, and C, grow people, and still make it home for dinner.”
w&h: What’s the difference you want to make?
HA: I’m known for being a good listener. I like listening. I like including others, and connecting ideas to drive decisions forward. I’d like to promote listening. Some people move too fast or can’t listen or don’t want to listen. But real listening makes such a big difference. It’s not always easy - especially in business, when we’re trying to understand information, figure out the next question, sound smart, make decisions… sometimes listening gets forgotten.
w&h: How have you been influential from where you are?
HA: When I had only been at GE a couple of years, I came out. I wasn’t totally comfortable being out at work. I considered leaving and going to another company where it wouldn’t be as big of a deal - maybe somewhere not in the mid-west. But I decided to give it a chance anyway. I put together a business case for the VP of Human Resources for why GE should have an organization that supports the LGBT community. I had all these ideas and put them together in this whole report, and then I basically cornered him at a cocktail hour and showed it to him. It must of have worked because he said “Let’s get started!” which I wasn’t actually prepared for. But that conversation shifted the problem from trying to convince someone to rolling up my sleeves and doing the hard work of implementation. We had to create a process and iterate on it and learn. In the end, I had completely stuck my neck out and hoped he wouldn’t chop it off… but I got the OK! It felt very vulnerable, but it’s made a huge difference.
w&h: What advice would you give the younger version of yourself?
HA: To myself, I’d say be confident and patient. I remember having a lot of excitement to do everything really fast - especially as an engineer. Then I was totally blind-sided when I was told a good engineer takes 5-7 year to train well. I didn’t want to wait that long! But I also learned that I could have an impact before then… it was the expertise that takes time. I think we all need to be patient about developing expertise. As for confidence, it’s on my list of things I’m trying to have more of right now. I see lots of very confident men in my organization, and sometimes I’m baffled by the way they display their confidence. I wish my young self would have thought about confidence sooner, and stepped up.
w&h: What about for the rest of the young women out there?
HA: For the young ladies out there, I’d say be excellent. Find something, develop an expertise, be known for it, and be humble about it… keep a learning mindset all the time. Never assume you’re the smartest person in the room, but know your stuff. Pairing humility with confidence goes far. People gravitate to leaders who are confident and humble.
Heather's Words of Wisdom
"Integrity is a big thing for my company and that resonates with me. It’s one of the reasons I like working here."
On Vision & Purpose
"What I care about most is helping other people grow. I don’t aspire to be a VP of an org. Instead I want to have impact from where I am."
"Some people move too fast or can’t listen or don’t want to listen. But real listening makes such a big difference."
"When I’m super stressed, I meditate before bed. It helps me sleep."
"I had to completely stick my neck out and hope he wouldn’t chop it off… and I got the OK! It felt very vulnerable, but it’s made a huge difference."