I don't know when I've been more excited about a retail executive hiring than when I heard Apple recruited Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts to head up its retail effort.
What a forward-thinking move from Apple and fascinating challenge for Ms. Ahrendts. Tech is fashion these days (largely thanks to Apple) and Ahrendts is a rare left-brain/right-brain talent who will bring fresh thinking to Apple's retail effort.
Under Ahrendts' leadership, in partnership with designer Christopher Bailey, Burberry became a standard bearer for luxury brands in the digital space even as its competitors stayed stuck in a store-centric rut. Ahrendts pulled off a tricky balancing act by reining in brand-killing licensing programs, then carefully re-energized the brand by sharpening price points, offering runway-to-living-room access to its collections, and turning its stores into interactive and welcoming entertainment spaces...sound familiar?
Five more reasons why Ahrendts is the right pick for Apple:
1. She deftly transformed Burberry from a ubiquitous, counterfeit-ridden commodity and into an expansive, transmedia brand powerhouse. Ahrendts managed to renew Burberry's cachet and ramp up its relevance to a new generation of tech-savvy shoppers, even as she expanded its customer base beyond luxury. Apple may be sliding a bit in the cachet department, and the brand has become ubiquitous since it relaxed the rules on partnered retail distribution. Some say that's Apple's biggest problem, but Ahrendts uniquely understands that brand ubiquity and brand equity need not be mutually exclusive.
2. Burberry is usually referred to as a luxury brand but, like Apple, it is a multi-model company that operates wholesale, retail and direct-to-consumer businesses. Ahrendts broke down silos between Burberry's business units and drove synergies between them. As such, she can be expected to foster cooperation and collaboration across Apple's orchard.
3. Under Ahrendts, Burberry redefined flagship retail for the digital age, leveraging its high-profile locations to drive greater brand awareness and bolster its wholesale cred. Ahrendts won't let Apple's highly-productive (and much-copied) retail environments get musty and its wholesale accounts should be thrilled about that.
4. Technology and fashion are blurring together. Soon, you won't be able to tease them apart. That's reason enough to call Apple's pick prescient, particularly as consumers trade off discretionary dollars between tech and trench coats in the meantime.
5. Like Tim Cook, Ahrendts had big shoes to fill when she started at Burberry. Her predecessor and fellow American, Rose Marie Bravo, was credited with driving Burberry's first big turnaround which resulted in a tenfold market capital increase. Coming into Burberry as "the next American" may not have been as daunting as chasing away Steve Jobs' shadow, but Ahrendts' and Cook's similar trajectories and their comfort with sharing the spotlight might just turn them into a dynamic duo.
This will be so fun to watch and could put Ahrendts on the CEO track at Apple (calling it a step down for her is short-sighted).
P.S. Christopher Bailey's ascent at Burberry will be as well. His beyond-designer involvement in multiple aspects of Burberry's business no doubt teed him up for the top role in the wake of Ahrendts' departure. Will he raise the bar even higher?