New Apple retail boss Angela Ahrendts: ‘it’s all about people’


Angela Ahrendts, the outgoing chief executive officer of Burberry Group Plc and Apple’s incoming head of Retail and online Apple Stores, has penned a rather interesting little post over at LinkedIn. The article deals with following one’s gut instinct and hints at what we might expect from her after she joins Apple a few months from today.

Titled ‘Why a Successful Transition is a Great Legacy,’ it outlines the challenges of transitioning to a new leadership and details her intuitive approach to the decision-making process that had gone into weighing Apple’s and Burberry’s offers to join their respective executive ranks…

The post opens with a passage on trusting one’s intuition and following one’s instincts. “I firmly believe in following your intuition, especially in relation to the most important decisions in your life,” reads the article.

In drawing parallels between joining Burberry in 2006 and accepting Apple’s offer in 2013, she notes that the idea of “uprooting our lives to move to London demanded a lot of soul searching and over months of consideration,” with the final decision eventually coming down to intuition, “my truest guide”.

A few months from now, she will be moving again, this time to Cupertino, California.

My instincts didn’t let me down, and my time as CEO of Burberry has without question been the most rewarding period of my professional life.

If the theme sounds familiar, that’s because it is.

In a similar vein, Apple’s boss Tim Cook said while addressing his Alma Mater at their January 2013 commencement that the idea of joining the nearly-bankrupt Apple in 1988 sounded like a career-destroying move.

Instead of listening to the sound of reason, Cook opted to follow his gut instinct instead:

Apple was in a very different place than it is today, and my employer at the time, Compaq Computer, was the largest personal computer company in the world. Not only was Compaq performing much better than Apple, it was headquartered in Texas and therefore closer to Auburn football.

Any purely rational consideration of cost and benefits lined up in Compaq’s favor, and the people who knew me best advised me to stay at Compaq. One CEO I consulted felt so strongly about it he told me I would be a fool to leave Compaq for Apple.

In making the decision to come to Apple, I had to think beyond my training as an engineer. Engineers are taught to make decisions analytically and largely without emotion. When it comes to a decision between alternatives we enumerate the cost and benefits and decide which one is better. But there are times in our lives when the careful consideration of cost and benefits just doesn’t seem like the right way to make a decision.

There are times in all of our lives when a reliance on gut or intuition just seems more appropriate–when a particular course of action just feels right. And interestingly I’ve discovered it’s in facing life’s most important decisions that intuition seems the most indispensable to getting it right.

In turning important decisions over to intuition one has to give up on the idea of developing a life plan that will bear any resemblance to what ultimately unfolds. Intuition is something that occurs in the moment, and if you are open to it. If you listen to it it has the potential to direct or redirect you in a way that is best for you. On that day in early 1998 I listened to my intuition, not the left side of my brain or for that matter even the people who knew me best.

It’s hard to know why I listened, I’m not even sure I know today, but no more than five minutes into my initial interview with Steve, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind and join Apple.

My intuition already knew that joining Apple was a once in a lifetime opportunity to work for the creative genius, and to be on the executive team that could resurrect a great American company. If my intuition had lost the struggle with my left brain, I’m not sure where I would be today, but I’m certain I would not be standing in front of you.

Angela’s past eight years at Burberry’s helm taught here that “it’s all about people”.

This is the lady who firmly believes in succession planning. Apple does, too, it’s just the company in years past has kept its succession plans hidden from investors behind the famous veil of secrecy. She’s a believer in social media, an area Apple is not very good at – company employees are famously strictly prohibited from blogging, for example.

Burberry Group Plc CEO Angela Ahrendts At The London Stock Exchange

On management transitions and succession planning:

Too often management transitions are viewed with fear or suspicion, when they should be the ultimate example of a natural and healthy organizational evolution.

In fact, I believe succession planning is one of the greatest responsibilities you have as a leader – so when your time comes to move on, your team not only doesn’t miss a beat but gains in momentum, embracing new challenges and realizing future opportunities.

The larger the company, the greater the obligation, she says expressing her belief that “great companies add greater social value”.

We’ll see how that works out for her after she joins Apple.

Finally, Ahrendts dropped hints at what she believes “will define the next generation,” wrapping it up nicely by saying:

If a seamless transition is my greatest legacy, then the greatest gift I can receive in return is to see the true measure of the company’s success by how many lives are touched and transformed by the power of our performance.

Her thoughts appear to match up Apple’s recurring theme on the importance of collaboration, customer emotions and touching people’s lives. For what it’s worth, Cook called Angela in an email to troops “the best person in the world for this role”.

After spending more than a year carefully profiling candidates for former SVP of Retail Ron Johnson’s replacement, Tim Cook & Co finally picked the Burberry CEO since 2006, Angela Ahrendts. Unlike Johnson, Apple tasked Ahrendts with managing all of Apple’s retailing efforts, including – for the first time – the online Apple Store.

Apple Store (Fifth Avenue, exterior 001)

Ahrendts, 53, currently #53 on Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, will be joining Apple in mid-2014 and some have already proclaimed her Apple’s next CEO.

Cook’s reign is expected to last at least until 2021, when the remaining half of his restricted shares will vest, giving him plenty of time to groom Ahrendts as his eventual replacement. She is also #4 on Forbes’ list of the top corporate executives in 2013.

I would very much like to see Jony Ive take over from Cook come 2021 but Leander Kahney’s unofficial bio book on the design guru makes it clear Ive isn’t interested in CEO matters as his primary preoccupation focuses strictly on industrial design and new product development.

Here are a few recommended reads by Ahrendts, posted previously to LinkedIn:

• From the Heart: The Importance of Enduring Values
• Does Your Brand Tell a Powerful Story?
• Reflections on the Wisdom of Teams
• Powerful Advice from Unexpected Places
• Why I Believe Energy Can Transform Companies and Communities

After she takes over as Apple’s retail boss, Ahrendts will be barred from posting to social media due to Apple’s strict policy on employee blogging, designed under the Jobs regime to ensure the company’s full control over its message.