As my regular readers know, every once in a while, I encounter something on the web that is so well written that I have trouble selecting a good extract to blog about. Still, I persevere.
So here’s an extract from an eminently readable HBR article (which I quoted from, in my previous post on Louis Vuitton), by Angela Ahrendts, on how she fixed Burberry and the challenges she faced in that process.
On the surface, I might have seemed an unlikely CEO for a company that was considered quintessentially British. I was raised in a small town in Indiana and educated at Ball State University. I was a classic midwesterner—something the Financial Times had fun mocking when I first took the job. But I’d been fortunate enough to work with and learn from some of the most inspirational leaders in the fashion industry, from Paul Charron to Donna Karan. And I had 25 years of experience on my side.
I also clearly had one attribute that made me a good fit: I admire and respect great brands and helped to build some over the years. From Apple to Starbucks, I love the consistency—knowing that anywhere in the world you can depend on having the same experience in the store or being served a latte with the same taste and in the same cup. That’s great branding.
Unfortunately, Burberry didn’t have a lot of that. An experience in any given Burberry store in the world might be very different from the customer’s previous one. As part of my transition, I spent six months working closely with my predecessor, hitting the road to get a sense of Burberry worldwide. In Hong Kong, I was introduced to a design director and her team, who proudly showed me the line they were creating for that market: polo shirts and woven shirts and everything with the famous Burberry check, but not a single coat.
Then we went to America, where I was introduced to another design director and design team. This team was creating outerwear, but at half the price point of that in the UK. Furthermore, the coats were being manufactured in New Jersey. So we were making classic Burberry raincoats that said “Made in the U.S.A.” I later learned that we had outerwear licensees in Italy and Germany making trench coats that were even cheaper than those in the United States.
Great global brands don’t have people all over the world designing and producing all kinds of stuff. It became quite clear that if Burberry was going to be a great, pure, global luxury brand, we had to have one global design director. We had an incredible young designer named Christopher Bailey, with whom I’d worked at Donna Karan and who I knew was a sensational talent. So I introduced him early on as the “brand czar.” I told the team, “Anything that the consumer sees—anywhere in the world—will go through his office. No exceptions.”
Highly recommend reading the piece in its entirety.