Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts is making headlines this week following an announcement that she’ll join Apple next year to oversee its retail operations.
She’s the second luxury-industry chief to join Apple this year, following Paul Deneve, formerly of Yves Saint Laurent, becoming vice president of special projects. It’s a notable hire for Apple, as Ahrendts is largely responsible for turning around what many once considered an old, tired brand in Burberry. She’s credited with more than tripling sales and quadrupling Burberry’s share price during her tenure at the company.
Apple may not need that kind of overhaul; the company continues to do well financially and maintains its status as one of the world’s most admired brands. However, its retail stores have seen dips and challenges. The company reported in July that average revenue per store was on the decline. Robin Lewis, who publishes the retail strategy newsletter The Robin Report, recently commented that the Apple retail experience is getting “redundant.”
Ahrendts’ design-savvy and strong business sense could be just what Apple needs to take its stores back to their previous glory. I heard her speak at Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Conference earlier this month, and her talk on creating a culture of creativity and design fueling growth was an inspiring, relevant standout.
Ahrendts spoke about having a “50/50 brain”—half left brain and half right brain. It’s served her well in her career. She’s always loved fashion but doesn’t necessarily consider herself creative. At the same time, she’s always been opinionated and recalled a college professor pushing her toward the business and merchandising side of fashion versus the design side. It transformed her outlook and informed how she thinks today about balance. As a result she builds teams with a blend of both skills.
She was open about the challenges she faced when joining Burberry in 2006, and she shed light on the role design played in her and Burberry chief creative officer (and soon to be new CEO) Christopher Bailey’s reset of the brand.
In partnership with Bailey, Ahrendts placed a renewed focus and emphasis on design across everything Burberry does—from the company’s retail and online experiences to completely redesigning its headquarters. The result is a stunning experience that shows how the brand is current and in touch with today’s technology while also honoring its heritage.
Nearly every speaker at the Innovation by Design Conference made the point that brands that “get” design do so because it’s part of their DNA. It certainly seems true for Burberry, and it’s clearly working for the company—its quarterly results released this week disclosed that sales rose 14 percent to $1.6 billion in the first half of this year. It will be interesting to watch where Ahrendts takes the Apple retail experience and if her “50/50 brain” makes the same kind of impact in the tech world.