Careers with purpose available for all: Former Apple MD Diana Ryall

Diana Ryall believes women can have a career with purpose.

It may not come directly from your everyday work, but it can come in the activities you pursue outside of the office. Even just a few hours a month, helping out at a local charity.

"A lot of people think they're too busy and can't do anything at all," she says. "But you can do small things. There are people who come one a night a month and iron clothes [at Dress for Success].

"People can always do something if they really want to. It's a matter of saying, 'What can you do, how can you make a difference in your community? What are you really passionate about?'"

Apple Australia's former managing director is lucky to have found purpose all through her career, especially joining the tech company in the early 1980s and personally playing a part in how technology revolutionised education and created new aids for the disadvantaged.

Speaking to Women's Agenda in the lead-up to next week's Good Return event in which she'll discuss how more women can achieve a sense of purpose in their life and career, Ryall has continually found such purpose balancing business pursuits with assisting the disadvantaged.

After making the devastating decision to step down as Apple MD in 2001 following a battle with breast cancer, Ryall established Xplore for Success – offering programs and workshops for career development. Later, looking for a way to give back, she co-founded Dress for Success Sydney, where she serves as deputy chair of the board. She's currently an ambassador with Good Return, a Kiva like organisation providing microfinance loans to women in Asia.

Ryall likes to think big. She's witnessed plenty of big visionaries during her career (including Steve Jobs) and fully appreciates what individuals can single-handedly do. By the time she left Apple, the company was ahead of its competitors in universities, schools, design, music and art and on the verge of reaching new business heights in the consumer market. "I saw the first iPod, but never saw the first iPhone," she says on just missing the beginning of the smartphone era.

Indeed, her own experience in computing started early, well before names like Jobs, Gates and others who changed the industry would go mainstream.

Her original plans to pursue a teaching career came unstuck when she moved to the US with her husband's work and couldn't get a job in American schools. Instead she landed a position writing computer assisted learning tools in a university. It was the beginning of a career she couldn't have previously imagined, and she immediately saw the potential in technology for changing people's lives.

In the early 1980s, Ryall took a part-time position with Apple where her ideas on using technology to assist the disadvantaged could further be explored. She was working with teachers on how computers could add value to education and later how technical aids could assist the disabled.

She was never tempted to leave the growing technology company, always appreciating its potential for change.

"I was always more interested in Apple because Steve Jobs had a different vision of what technology could do. It was ahead of the game," she says. "IBM was huge, but it was boring. They made computers for office workers. But Apple made computers because they allowed people to do new things."

She remembers the company going through a difficult time following Jobs' initial departure in 1993. His return in 1997 was welcome. "He used to run a top 100 meeting every six months, and I was a part of that. It was widely exciting. He would talk about new technologies, what was going to change and why it was going to change."

Ryall worked her way up from that initial part-time position (she had young children at home) in 1984 to being appointed managing director in 1997. She quickly moved away from cutting code, preferring a 'helicopter' view where she could get in diverse aspects of the business such as marketing and sales. She became Apple's director of education, which then accounted for 50% of Apple's revenue.

"I wanted to learn new things about the market," Ryall says. "I often tell people that you've got to have a passion for what's going on beyond your own little part of the business."

And that can also mean finding some purpose outside of the office. We can't all love our job or find a significant amount of time to 'give back', but we can source small opportunities to pursue a greater purpose outside of what we do every day.

Ryall will speak on finding a 'career with purpose' next Wednesday at a networking event for Good Return in Sydney.

Angela Priestley

Angela Priestley is the Publisher and founding editor of Women's Agenda. She's an author, journalist and passionate advocate for workplace gender equality and diversity. Her first book is Women Who Seize the Moment.

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