Ahrendts worked the miracle on the British brand, joined Apple and now enters Ralph Lauren’s board to give back the brand its old splendour after years of restructuring.
Fashion loves to create its own legends. Visionaries who were born away from the circuit that manage to create successful groups or turn around brands with a historical legacy. Angela Ahrendts is one of the few persons that has earned such a status. The executive, born in New Palestine (Indiana, United States), resurrected Burberry and transformed it into the most innovative company in its sector, and ten years later became Apple's highest-paid manager, where she put her retail expertise to service the tech industry. Now, Ahrendts returns to fashion to work the miracle in Ralph Lauren.
The third of six siblings, Ahrendts is the daughter of a businessman and a housewife and was raised in a town of just 2,000 inhabitants in the American Midwest. She was a diligent student and got a degree in marketing and merchandising at Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana before moving to New York to begin her career in fashion.
When she was already established in the Big Apple, the executive worked for Warnaco and Donna Karan, where she grew to lead global expansion through the wholesale- and licensing business of the brand. In 1996, Ahrendts received a call from Henri Bendel to take the Bendel brand to fifty new markets, but the project was cancelled just two years later.
With Ahrents at the forefront of Burberry, the company’s valuation tripled
The turning point in Ahrendt’s career came with Fifth & Pacific Companies, where she was in charge of merchandising for twenty different group brands and worked her way up the ranks to occupy the executive vice presidency of Liz Claiborne.
In 2006, Burberry knocked on her door. The luxury brand had already begun a repositioning process of repositioning lead by Rose Marie Bravo, but it continued to be perceived as a trench coats’ brand for a classic and old audience, only driven by the tartan pattern and the made in Britain tag.
With Christopher Bailey at the creative direction, Ahrendts gave Burberry a 180 degree turn: she pulled away from the iconic signature items until representing just 10% of the brand’s offering, turned an old English company into a global business and, above all, put the focus on innovation and technology, two terms that were then at the antipodes of luxury houses.
The executive became Apple’s best paid employee, where she runs the retail division and is a member of the executive leadership team
One of the milestones of the executive was the opening of Burberry’s flagship store in Regent Street, the first tech-driven store in the fashion industry. Her other great achievement: the streaming of the brand’s runway show in March 2012 for eighty million followers. With Ahrendts at the forefront, Burberry's capitalization soared from 2,000 million to 7,000 million pounds.
After eight years in London, Apple hired her to run its retail strategy and became the highest-paid executive in the Cupertino group, almost twice as much as its CEO, Tim Cook.
Her daily routine, as reported by several American media outlets, has something of Indiana and something of Silicon Valley: Ahrendts gets up at four thirty in the morning to meditate, reads the Bible and poetry and drinks Coca Cola Light non-stop. “I have brown blood,” she said.
Innovation, distribution and selective logos and technology were the keys of Burberry’s turnaround
Last week, five years after leaving Burberry, Ahrendts came back to fashion as a member of Ralph Lauren’s board, the latest fashion brand with decreasing sales that has lost its splendour and relies on the magic of the executive to be reborn.
The company has been trying to reconnect with the consumer for several years. In 2016, Ralph Lauren stepped aside and hired Stefan Larsson of Old Navy as the new CEO.
Larsson started a deep restructuring plan, but left the company a year later without completing it due to “different views on how to evolve the creative and consumer-facing parts of the business”. He was replaced by Patrice Louvet, prior executive at Procter & Gamble.
The leadership change coincided with the group’s worst financial performance in years, with losses amounting to one hundred million dollars. The company has closed stores, reordered its executive team and announced layoffs at its headquarters, but still hasn't gained back its previous market position.
Ahrendts is one last ace up Ralph Lauren’s sleeve: she comes with the Burberry experience and the added value of working for a tech giant and one of the worlds’ most valuable brands. Will she do it again?