24th Oct 2013

What can Angela Ahrendts bring to Apple?

Angela Ahrendts is due to exchange the Burberry trench for a Mac. In the Spring, Ahrendts will leave Bond Street for Cupertino California to take over Apple’s retail operations. Ahrendts is not the first fashion powerhouse to be poached by the tech giant – Paul Deneve, former Saint Laurent CEO started reporting to Apple CEO Tim Cook in September. This leadership diversity comes as Apple strives to position itself as a lifestyle brand, and shake-off its technology tag.

Tellingly, Apple’s last retail chief John Browett - who came from the rather lackluster high street retail outlet Dixons - didn’t last long. Browett left after just five months explaining that he did not fit in with the company’s culture. With the new direction Apple is looking to take, and with expansion in emerging markets in mind, Ahrendts seems like a much more fitting candidate in many ways.

When Ahrendts joined Burberry in 2006 the 157-year-old brand’s reputation was suffering – it was considered somewhat staid – and its signature black, red and beige check had become widely available on cheap knock-offs at any market stall.

In a bold move Ahrendts ditched the check almost entirely from Burberry products. This lead to a remarkable turnaround which has seen Burberry transformed again into a desirable, trendy high-end brand with an increasing global customer base. A keystone in Ahrendts strategy was her decision to aggressively embrace the digital world - now Burberry’s fastest growth is online - which further cemented the brand’s revival. During Ahrendts’ tenure as chief Burberry’s revenues tripled and the company saw a stock return of 300%.

Ahrendts made Burberry relevant and up-market, something Cook will be hoping she can do for Apple. He has said of Ahrendts “She shares our values and our focus on innovation, and she places the same strong emphasis as we do on the customer experience. She has shown herself to be an extraordinary leader throughout her career and has a proven track record.”

Interestingly Ahrendts will be the first woman to join Apple’s executive team in almost a decade. In the marketing world there is an abiding adage which claims that a majority of consumer spending decisions are made or influenced by women; while the hard facts of this are debatable, having a hugely successful retail chief who also understands the buying decisions of women can only be a plus in my opinion.

As it comes under increasing pressure from competitors such as Samsung, Apple will be looking to Ahrendts to take up where Ron Johnson - the innovative former retail head who pioneered the genius bars - left off. With her formidable experience, it seems likely that Ahrendts may just be the candidate to build the tech giant’s name as a luxury brand, and lead it to global retail expansion.

Hilda Goold

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