Driven to Disruption

When people learn that Christine DeFilippo (BSE 1990, MSIA 1994) is a Director of Operations at Apple, the first thing they ask is often which of the company’s products she works on.

The answer isn’t so clear cut, says DeFilippo. “I build operations for software and services,” she explains. “I ramp up and manage large teams to support product builds, drive all the service agreements and statements of work, and manage the production and quality processes.”

It’s an unusual role at Apple, but it gives her an unusual perspective on the organization. As “a builder and not a sustainer, by choice,” as she puts it, she’s spent almost all of her time there moving among projects that need her problem-solving skills.

The Tepper Touch

As an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University, DeFilippo earned her bachelor’s in economics through a joint degree program shared by the Tepper School of Business and the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. After working in finance, she returned to CMU for her MSIA. From there, she became a manager of business development at the Walt Disney Company. After a brief detour into investor relations at a manufacturing company, she led strategy and marketing operations for mapping and navigation company NAVTEQ, and later at Nokia after it acquired NAVTEQ. She joined Apple in a financial role in 2012.

DeFilippo draws a direct line from her time at Tepper to her success at the company. Both emphasize innovation and experimentation. Both promote broad-based problem-solving. And then there’s the Tepper ethos of fostering collaboration among people with a wide range of backgrounds, skills, experiences, and learning styles.

“A lot of people in the operations world can’t scale or be effective because they struggle to work with engineers, but I’d already had a lot of practice,” DeFilippo says.

Tepper also gave her the ability to work effectively at an intense and rigorous pace. “Apple moves faster than any other company I’ve worked for,” she says. “It feels like I’ve been here my entire career because I’ve done so much, and that only happens when you work with a great team, which Tepper’s mini system taught me how to do really well. Everyone was very different at Tepper, but we all had to work hard to get where we were, which allowed us to let go of stereotypes and focus on working together.”

“A lot of people in the operations world can’t scale or be effective because they struggle to work with engineers, but I’d already had a lot of practice.”

Tackling the Gender Question

That brings up an issue that’s gone from a simmer to a rolling boil in recent years: the question of how the male-dominated technology industry perceives and treats women. “I would not say, though maybe it’s just me, that tech is better or worse than any other field,” she begins, before listing off examples of her own experiences since graduating from Tepper.

At her very first job, she says, she was ordered never to wear trousers to the office, only skirts. Years later, she worked for a company that offered no maternity leave, only disability leave, with a manager who was openly skeptical about her intention to return to work after using up her six allotted weeks. And then there was the boss who propositioned her during meetings and gave her a seven-page handwritten love letter, which the HR department brushed off as a joke.

At one point, during the final round of interviews for a top position, she mentioned to the company’s founder that she and her husband had six children between them. “He visibly lost interest,” she recalls. “It was obvious there was no room in his mind for a woman at the senior executive level with any responsibilities at home. Ironically, if he had only asked, I’d have told him that my husband stopped working to be a stay-at-home father.”

The culture at Apple was a welcome change, given the company’s emphasis on the importance of diversity and inclusion. She gives a lot of credit to the top-down mission of CEO Tim Cook to ensure that women and men earn the same for similar roles in every country where Apple operates. The company also provides training and education for all employees to raise awareness around these important issues.

“It’s great to work for a company that values equality and challenges the status quo,” she says. “It’s one key driver that keeps me here.”


Advice for Students and Alumni

Despite a busy schedule, DeFilippo makes a point of supporting the Tepper community. In addition to contributing to the building campaign for the Tepper Quad, she’s hosted a summer event at her home to welcome incoming MBA students from throughout the Bay Area and second-year MBA interns in the area. She also returned to campus in April for her 25th Reunion, where she joined other alumni speaking on a technology panel.

In a recent keynote speech to part-time online students at an Access Weekend in San Jose, she connected with the audience with humor and candor, describing how she navigated a job that wasn't a good fit in a challenging year that culminated with a fire that burned down the family home. The part-time MBA student cohort, many of whom are juggling coursework, careers, and families themselves, were inspired by her story of regaining her self-confidence and appetite for risk so she could move on.

Asking her what nascent technology innovations today’s Tepper students should be aware of as they plan their business careers makes her pause and say thoughtfully, “I don’t really think about it that way.”

“It feels like I’ve been here my entire career because I’ve done so much, and that only happens when you work with a great team.”

“Plan your career around thinking about which parts of your environment are ready to be disrupted and what kinds of disruption will improve the world overall,” she advises. Beyond that, don’t do that thinking alone or assume that leaving school means you know everything you need to know for the rest of your career. Being collaborative, curious, and willing to continue learning as technology continues to expand is key to managing a successful career.  

Most of all, she says, the most successful careers are based on understanding what, at your core, motivates you. “Everyone has two or three things that have really driven them forward, ever since they were small,” she says. “Make sure those two or three things are the common thread through what you’re doing at all times. That’s what pushes you, beyond anyone you're competing with.” —

High Technology features a leader in the technology industry whose work involves incorporating new technological innovations into business practice.

by Fawn Fitter