Isabel Ge Mahe left Steve Jobs perplexed. For more than a year, Apple had been trying to lure her from her position as VP of wireless software engineering for Palm Inc. Nothing had worked—not even a gift basket delivered upon the birth of her first child. Now, the Silicon Valley legend had invited Ge Mahe into his home.
Jobs listened as she described her intense loyalty to Palm, where she had worked for six years and was integral to the struggling smartphone maker’s turnaround effort. His bewilderment turned to determination. “He went into sales mode and, after about two hours, convinced me that if I wanted to make a bigger impact in the world, I had to come to Apple.”
She joined in July 2008 as VP of wireless technologies, charged with developing the wireless capabilities of the new iPhone and nearly every other Apple product. Based in Cupertino, she oversaw engineers working on baseband and telephony software, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and location and motion technologies, in addition to Apple Pay and CarPlay, and was instrumental in developing HomeKit.
A year ago, Apple tapped Ge Mahe to fill the critical new position of VP and managing director of Greater China, where she oversees 12,000 employees across mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan—a region that generates nearly 20 percent of revenues.
Based in Shanghai, Ge Mahe provides leadership and coordination across Apple’s China-based team. She’s also played a central role in the integration of several regional features for the iPhone and iPad, including Shanghainese dictation, SMS fraud protection, English on 10-key Pinyin keyboards, and the ability for consumers to rely on a phone number as their Apple ID.
The tenacity that caught Jobs’ attention has been evident since Ge Mahe’s early life. Born in China, she moved to Vancouver at age 16 with her father, a former college professor who worked menial jobs to make ends meet. She helped out—despite her father’s objections–toiling nights and weekends at Church’s Chicken while finishing high school. She learned English while working the register.
Applying to Simon Fraser University, she chose engineering over computer science because it was the more challenging and prestigious program. “I like to take the path of most resistance,” she says, “because it’s easier to stand out.” After graduating with a master’s in electrical engineering in 2000, Ge Mahe worked for two years for AirPrime, a wireless products company purchased by Sierra Wireless, before joining Handspring, which was folded into Palm in 2003.
Ge Mahe came to Haas in 2005 to expand her business knowledge. In addition to the bonds she formed with fellow evening and weekend MBA students, she credits Haas for giving her a deep appreciation for teamwork and the ability to work with diverse groups.
“My guiding principle has always been to be the best, and I challenge my team to go beyond what is possible and never to settle for second place,” says Ge Mahe.