Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts To Head Apple Sales
Angela Ahrendts, an American who is has been widely hailed for her savvy and suave reversal of brand erosion and fortune at the British luxury fashion brand Burberry, is taking the new position of SVP of retail and online sales at Apple and will be reporting to CEO Tim Cook starting next spring.
Ahrendts, 53, who was born in Indiana, has been CEO of Burberry since 2006. She previously was an EVP at Liz Claiborne and president of Donna Karan International. "She shares our values and our focus on innovation,” says Cook in a statement, “and she places the same strong emphasis as we do on the customer experience.”
“Ahrendts is credited with leading a sharp turnaround at the British fashion house, almost tripling sales and quadrupling the share price during her tenure,” report the Wall Street Journal’s Kathy Gordon and Simon Zekaria. “At the time she came aboard, the company—best known for its red, beige and black-check hallmark pattern featured on many of its clothes—was suffering from brand overexposure. That was hitting sales to the high-end customer it long catered to.”
She was the “highest paid CEO in the UK last year, raking in a total of £16.9 million ($26.3 million),” CNNMoney’s Alanna Petroff reported in June, “which was nearly £5 million more than the next highest paid CEO….”
“Ahrendts' departure comes amid growing concern about the small number of female executives at the top of British business, and leaves just two women in charge of the largest UK-listed companies: Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco and Carolyn McCall of easyJet,” Jennifer Rankin writes in the Guardian.
“She has been credited with turning around the luxury fashion brand and expanding its presence in Asia,” writes CNNMoney’s Virginia Harrison. “Part of her success has been driven by embracing digital and social media to attract a youthful following to the label.”
A Forbes profile points out that “Burberry's Spring/Summer 2013 campaign went viral, with the teaser video gaining over 1 million YouTube views in just 48 hours.” Its YouTube channel has more than 85,000 subscribers.
Apple “has been pushing hard into new markets like China with a huge retail presence there, as well as breaking ground in other emerging countries like Russia. (Coincidentally, both are hits with Burberry; Ahrendts knows how to sell high-end product there.),” TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden writes. She also points out that Burberry deployed new iPhones prominently during its Spring/Summer fashion show last month.
A small-town Indiana girl at heart, as captured by Nancy Hass in an in-depth 2010 WSJ Magazine profile, Ahrendts “says she learned her analytical skills from Linda Wachner, former CEO of Warnaco, and her ‘right brain’ skills from Donna Karan.”
But the highlight of her year, she told Hass, was delivering the commencement address at her alma mater, Ball State University, in front of her husband and three children. She is also quite at home among celebrities and the fashion elite. “Clothing-rack-slender at 6’3″ in stilettos, she looks as much a part of the scene as the models Mario Testino shoots for her campaigns,” Hass writes as she observes her at an industry event at New York’s Lincoln Center
This is Apple’s second dip into the fashion world in recent months. Paul Deneve, the former CEO of Yves St. Laurent, was hired in July to work on “special projects.” Deneve had worked in sales and marketing for Apple Europe for several years in the 1990s, according to his Linked In profile.
“Apple may want to draw upon Deneve's expertise in the luxury goods sector to help launch new products, including the rumored iWatch, speculated AppleInsider’s Daniel Eran Dilger, who broke the story.
The hiring of Ahrendts culminates a long search following the departure of John Browett, former CEO at European Technology Retailer Dixons, who had been named its SVP of Retail in January 2012. He replaced Ron Johnson, the man credited with “developing Apple's retail brand strategy from scratch,” as Dilger wrote at time. But “Browett turned out to be as poor of a fit running Apple as Johnson was in taking the reigns at JC Penney.”
Christopher Bailey, currently chief creative officer at Burberry, will also assume the CEO responsibilities. A video of Ahrendts and Bailey discussing the transition with chairman Sir John Peace is available on The Telegraph’s website accompanying a story that reports that her “surprise departure — which was announced at 7 am this morning — knocked Burberry’s shares almost 5% in morning trading as investors reacted badly to the news.” The company also denies that Bailey was about to quit the company.
Ahrendts is “going out on a high,” Rahul Sharma, managing director of Neev Capital, says in a Bloomberg Television interview cited by Bloomberg Businessweek’s Andrew Roberts. “This whole team has actually transformed Burberry from what it was 10 years ago to what it is today. A super-cool, young, if that were possible, luxury brand.”