Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts Goes to Apple as Brand Looks to Keep Forward Momentum

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In a move preempted by high-profile collaborations, Apple has successfully poached Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts to be its senior vice president of retail and online stores. 

Over her eight-year tenure at Burberry, Ahrendts guided the global fashion brand through a period of great growth alongside creative director and newly appointed CEO Christopher Bailey, and her move to Apple represents just how well she utilized digital innovations and technology in her strategy that transformed Burberry’s brand and overall customer experience. 

Apple, which essentially set a new standard in retail with its streamlined brick-and-mortar stores, ‘Genius Bar’ customer service and in-store training is looking to keep its momentum as its recent succesful launch of its two new iPhones has set the stage for the brand to further infiltrate the Asian market—a key to future growth and success especially in mobile. Ahrendts will no doubt bring her knack for truly unique retail experiences to the personal tech giant—and her fashion prowess won’t hurt either.[more]

Anglea “shares our values and our focus on innovation, and she places the same strong emphasis as we do on the customer experience,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a press release

Learning the ropes at Liz Claiborne and Donna Karan International before Burberry, Ahrendts raised prices, pushed into new markets, grew Burberry’s non-apparel business and led the company into the digital age, streaming fashion shows live on its website and enabling customers to order items during the events. Just last month, in a collaboration that now seems foreboding, Ahrendts orchestrated the use of Apple’s new iPhone 5s to film the 157-year-old company’s London Fashion Week show. Named International Retailer of the Year in 2012, Ahrendts and Bailey oversaw the relaunch of the brand’s London flagship into a truly immersive digital shopping experience that incorporated over 100 screens and 500 speakers, virtual rainstorms and in-store digital entertainment through its Burberry Acoustic arm. She also oversaw the launch of Burberry World, the company’s redesigned website-as-social-network that serves to connect and engage customers with the brand’s heritage—something that may surely be put to use for Apple’s online retail experience.

But perhaps the most key trait that Ahrendts possesses is experience in the complicated and hard-to-crack Asian retail market, where Apple faces steap competition especially in the mobile market, where iPhones are more difficult (and more costly) to operate than handsets made by Samsung and others. Ahrendts handled the company’s retail woes in China, acquiring 50 stores in 30 cities from Chinese trading partner Kwok Hang Holdings for 70 million pounds in 2010, followed by a high-tech flagship store in China, replete with in-store iPads and virtual touchscreens.

But its the bigger picture beyond retail that makes this latest executive shift indicative of Apple’s future plans, as the CEO of the 77th Best Global Brand joins the ranks of the No. 1 Best Global Brand. Ahrendts joins another fashion-industry leader, Paul Deneve, former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, who joined Apple over the summer as a VP of special projects—likely in the increasingly important wearable tech space. 

As for Burberry, its shares fell 6 percent following the news, indicating a state of uncertainty for one of Europe’s most iconic brands. Creative Director and now CEO Bailey, who worked hand-in-hand with Ahrendts during their time together, may have some difficulty juggling the responsibilities of both roles as he prepares to join the company’s board.

“[Ahrendts] leaves the company at a crossroads, as there is no clear development strategy in place,” Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Mario Ortelli told Business of Fashion. “We believe that in a company as big and complex as Burberry, even for a person as talented as Mr. Bailey, it is hard to have enough time to carry out both of these roles.” But there’s no doubt that Bailey shared the same brand vision as Ahrendts, as his own personal tastes, especially in music, were apparent in the brand’s revolution over the last decade. 

Apple, meanwhile, has seemingly recovered from its dip in popularity after the company failed to innovate for some time following the passing of brand visionary Steve Jobs. But now, with a record-breaking iPhone(s) launch, an iPad announcement on the way, and a promising future on China’s mobile networks, Apple looks to have finally resaddled the horse. The addition of Ahrendts may just make that ride into the sunset a bit sweeter.  

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