Trailblazing CEOs from Apple, Tesla, Starbucks & More Talk Innovation

By Lilly Milman |  July 22, 2020

We’ve collected 10 of our favorite videos that feature CEOs, founders, and trailblazing innovators talking about how new things get developed in their organizations. They cover the importance of being courageous, taking big risks, leading with empathy, making change happen in companies with long histories, and more.

Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple 

Length: 3 minutes and 33 seconds

In this clip on his innovation strategy, the late Steve Jobs emphasized courage above all else — specifically, the courage to embrace emerging technology and to listen to the customers. He also recommends letting go of older technology that is no longer as necessary (think: disc drives on laptops). 

Astro Teller, CEO of X

Length: 17 minutes and 29 seconds

“If you can’t afford crazy, you can’t afford brilliant,” Astro Teller says. Teller is the CEO and “Captain of Moonshots” at X (formerly known as Google X, an Alphabet company). To work on projects like the moonshots at X — such as self-driving cars — an organization needs to encourage and accept failure as a part of the culture. 

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors

Length: 2 minutes and 17 seconds

Not making decisions is a decision itself, says General Motors CEO Mary Barra. And indecisiveness not a great idea for companies seeking to innovate. Barra says, “You want to be data-driven, but there are many decisions you have to make where you don’t have perfect data — and you never will.” She also talks about the cultural ripple effects of Cruise Automation, a Silicon Valley startup that GM acquired in 2016.

Mary Dillon, CEO of Ulta Beauty

Length: 10 minutes and 23 seconds

Touching on 30 years of experience leading businesses, Ulta Beauty CEO Mary Dillon advises her fellow leaders to empathize with employees and customers. She also recommends listening to the frontline employees who know their clientele the best. 

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

Length: 4 minutes and 40 seconds

Companies big and small need to experiment and push boundaries in order to succeed, according to Jeff Bezos. And if you know an idea is going to be successful, then that’s not an experiment, he says in this short clip on the company’s culture of innovation. 

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla

Length: 7 minutes and 13 seconds

“If you don’t push for radical breakthroughs, you’re not going to get radical outcomes,” Elon Musk says in a February 2020 talk about the importance of innovation. “Most of the time, you’re not going to find a big reward for a small risk.”

Ginni Rometty, former CEO of IBM

Length: 32 minutes and 40 seconds

Ginni Rometty, the former CEO and current executive chairman of IBM, discusses the challenges and strategies for planning ahead based on her experience running a century-old company. She shares insights on growing in the right areas and planning as far as 50 years in advance. 

Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox and VEON

Length: 5 minutes and 28 seconds

Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox and the first black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company, tackles what it means to change a company with a long history. While there are benefits to taking over a longstanding, large company, there’s also a challenge: overcoming the fact that the product the company creates exists in a fixed time period in the public’s minds. In this video, Burns addresses embracing change while paying homage to a storied past.

Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks

Length: 4 minutes and 56 seconds

At the London Business Forum, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz explains why he began signing off his emails with the word “Onward” (also the title of his book), and how the company rediscovered its entrepreneurial spirit during a financial crisis. “Any company, small or large, consumer or otherwise, that is going to embrace the status quo as an operating principle, I think is just going to be dead,” he says. 

Abigail Johnson, CEO of Fidelity Investments

Length: 2 minutes and 46 seconds

In this clip, Fidelity Investments CEO Abigail Johnson explains to a Fidelity intern why innovation and constant reinvention is necessary for success. A common misconception, Johnson says, is that innovation equals technology. This is not the case at Fidelity. While technology often enables innovation, they are not the same thing — and changing processes and getting all employees involved in innovating is just as important as a new tech product.