Burberry after CEO Ahrendts heads to Apple
FORTUNE — It says a lot about the allure of Apple that Angela Ahrendts, the head honcho at Burberry, was willing to trade in her title as CEO — and as the highest paid executive on the London Stock Exchange’s FTSE 100 index — to become an SVP at the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant. In a newly created job that she’ll take on in the spring, Ahrendts will head up online and retail stores and report to CEO Tim Cook.
“Brilliant choice. I love her,” says Ron Johnson, Apple’s (AAPL) former SVP of retail operations, who until earlier this year ran J.C. Penney (JCP). “Smart, innovative, energetic, bold, and incredible with people. It makes me very happy for Apple and the retail employees.”
The move means all eyes are on Apple. But lost in the news has been Burberry, the U.K.-based luxury retailer with some serious brand recognition of its own. Burberry will undergo a management shuffle as Christopher Bailey, the company’s longtime chief creative officer, will become CEO while maintaining his chief creative officer title.
Bailey and Ahrendts first worked together at Donna Karan, and Bailey helped recruit her to Burberry. The two have had a strong partnership, and the CEO handoff seems as seamless as it gets. Ahrendts had always been quick to give Bailey credit, calling him the “most amazing partner in the world.”
As Fortune noted last year in its story on Burberry’s rise as a retail darling within the tech industry, the company was underperforming compared to the rest of the luxury sector when Ahrendts took over as CEO. She and Bailey realized they had to embrace the brand’s British heritage while simultaneously pursuing millennial consumers.
Bailey was already doing more at Burberry than most creative officers at other companies. “I’ve got everything the consumer sees and everything anyone external or internal sees or feels or touches, whether that’s an experience with product or music or environment,” he told me during an interview last year at Burberry’s Horseferry House headquarters in London. But while he has been instrumental in strategy, analysts are concerned that he’s untested as a CEO and lacks experience on the business side.
During the interview, Bailey also gave a nod to Ahrendts’s new employer. When I asked where he found inspiration for Burberry’s digital ambitions, he pointed to Apple and said he was a huge fan of the company’s SVP of design, Jonathan Ive. “I’ve always been an Apple fan since the very beginning,” he says. “Apple is my kind of brand.”
Jennifer Reingold contributed reporting.