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WOMEN OF THE WORLD - ANGELA AHRENDTS
WOMEN OF THE WORLD
I'm very fond of Angela and have huge respect for her talent, ability to deliver and I feel her style of operation is just perfect in getting the best from her teams. We have known each other from our Burberry / Pringle of Scotland days. I hope you enjoy reading this interview, some very good insights and personal comments too.
KIM WINSER, OBE
Raised as one of six in New Palestine, Indiana, Ahrendts earned a degree in merchandising and marketing before moving to New York to pursue a career in fashion retailing. She was President of Donna Karan from 1989 to 1996 and has held senior management posts at Henri Bendel and Liz Claiborne.
In 2006, she moved with her family to the UK, replacing Rose Marie Bravo as CEO at Burberry. At that time, Kim Winser was at the helm of another British heritage brand, Pringle, and when she arrived in London, Rose Marie introduced Angela to Kim. The pair became friends and Kim remains an admirer of Angela as an inspiring business leader and for her dedication to balancing her working life with her precious family. When Kim launched Winser London in 2013, Angela championed her fledgling label and is grateful that she has continued to support the brand while living in the US.
Working closely with Burberry Creative Director Christopher Bailey, Angela was an early proponent of of digital infrastructure in the luxury sector, investing heavily in e-commerce, digital marketing, in-store technology and a roll-out in new markets, building what she calls a “connected culture” with employee and customer relations at the heart of the business strategy. During her nine-year tenure at the helm of the British heritage business, Ahrendts transformed the ailing trench coat manufacturer into an aspirational global luxury brand, seeing the company’s value rise from £2 billion to £7 billion.
Apple CEO Tim Cook enticed Ahrendts back to the US in 2014, when she joined the California-based tech business as Senior Vice President of Retail and Online Stores. After five years overseeing the retail strategy, she stepped down to pursue a diverse portfolio of board roles in the corporate and charity sectors. She lives with her husband in California.
You have been a successful business leader in various sectors. How would you describe your management style?
How do you think leadership philosophies have evolved over the decades that you have been in the workplace?
I think there has been a generational, cultural shift, too, where social media offers a forum to express ourselves. At Burberry we talked openly about love and trust to all levels of management, which would never happened in the early days of my career. The ultimate goal of humans is to build and maintain relationships. Even in business, we have workplace relationships and customer relationships, and we need to nurture those so they mean something to everyone involved.
Do you feel that women in leadership roles bring something different to the table?
Every institution, government, education establishment or business has to be agile enough to move and adapt and understand legacy and how to take that forward: you have a higher chance of success with a balanced board from a gender standpoint. Listening to how things can be done differently and having faith in that can be amazing
When I was at Burberry, it was the “soft” strategies that made us more profitable. I guess those are the things we traditionally associate with female characteristics. At Apple, we had tens of thousands of people who talked openly about life phases and how that impacted their work. We listened. In that third phase, when the kids had flown the nest, they embraced their renewed sense of flexibility and many welcomed an option to move to China. When you have young kids, it’s hard to work from home, but you might want flexibility to perhaps work in an office with some autonomy over how you deliver your hours.
There has to be give and take: that is part of the ‘S’ for social in ESG, so you can explore options and understand how different ways of working not only attracts new talent, but retains it in a way that stimulates and adds value. You don’t want to work in a company where 80 per cent of the staff have been there for 40 years, which can feel stagnant.
In recent years, we have seen a shift from profit-driven business to exploring purpose as a key part of enterprise. What is your take on that?
You are the first independent Chair at Save the Children International: why the move into the charity sector and what do you hope to achieve?
The charity sector has traditionally been governed very differently. The CEO and team have a new strategy to triple our impact the next three years. Instead of moving the 2030 goal posts, we plan to work three times faster, three times more efficiently, leverage technology and partners to ensure we help get back on track. We have 30 Chairs around the world and have a role to play in fundraising. More money has been made the last few years and we can be the connector.
As someone with years of experience behind you, and with children in their twenties, what can you learn from the next generation(s)?
My two eldest children live in London. My 26 year old daughter works for a new non-profit. My 27 year old son is a musician, and my youngest daughter is in college in the US. I feel the onus is on us to continue to stay aware of the rapid societal changes and continue to evolve. You want so badly to teach them life lessons, but they’re not always open to listen and many reach a phase where they think they know it all. I tell them it’s fascinating that the older they get, the dumber they think we get. Of course they need to experience life for themselves, but they also need to see that we as their parents are always open to listening and learning.
What do you believe are your strengths and weaknesses?
Maybe my strength is that I have been vulnerable and been open to working with people whose strengths compliment my weaknesses, trusting others who have expertise or skills that I don’t. I couldn’t do half the jobs I hired people to do at Burberry or Apple, I am just the connector and enabler in a collective that trusts and believes in all the component parts to function.
Who do you turn to for counsel?
Along the way in life, you need a variety of people to turn to for different types of counsel. You don’t only learn the good stuff, you learn how not to do things too: sometimes by asking, sometimes by observing. You might learn leadership skills from someone senior to you, but also the mechanics of business acquisition from someone else.
If you hadn’t been a business leader…?
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Faith is important to you, then?
There are so many religions and faiths and I respect them all: they are mechanisms to make things happen. I would much rather believe that there is a higher force that calls on us and puts us in situations that see us as servants to society. I am not that smart: I am an average woman from the Midwest and have been put in some incredible situations and been tasked with achieving things. I believe I had a reason for being there, so I decided not to fail.
How do you care for your health and wellbeing?
What’s on your reading list?
What is your guilty pleasure?
If you had one superpower, what would you choose?