Angela Ahrendts is the former Senior Vice President of the retail tech giant Apple and the former CEO of Burberry’s iconic fashion brand. In Forbes’ 2015 list of the most powerful women globally, she appeared as the 9th most powerful woman in the U.K. and the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour 100 Power List. She is known for her exemplary leadership skills and vision to transform companies and align them with success and prosperity.
Angela Ahrendts was born and raised in a small town in the Midwestern U.S. called New Palestine, Indiana, in a big family of five siblings. Her parents raised her with strong values and beliefs that she still holds very dear to her heart. Her parents being deeply spiritual, worked hard to keep the family united and always insisted on having meals together as a family to cherish and celebrate every minute of their lives.
Angela says that growing up in a small town had a significant impact on her life because she learned to value her family and friends’ emotional connections. Her first job was waiting tables in a local restaurant. Her family house was always filled with joy and laughter, food preparation, and constant conversations and debates.
“Growing up in Indiana, I learned that everything truly begins and ends with people, and the compassion, trust, and respect for others that define us, this part of the world has given me a tremendous professional foundation,” said Angela.
She graduated from Ball State University with a Degree in Marketing and Merchandising in 1981. Ahrendts later moved to New York City to pursue her passion for working in the fashion industry.
Not long after, in 1989, she was named President of Donna Karan International. She worked on honing her skills in merchandising and licensing at the luxury brand. After that, she worked at several other companies, including Henri Bendel (1996–98), Liz Claiborne, Inc. (later Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc., and then Kate Spade & Co.), where in 2002, she was named Executive Vice President.
Ahrendts was then offered the role of CEO at Burberry and stepped into the position in 2006; she was committed to growing the brand by changing its strategy to digital. Back then, most of Burberry’s luxury competitors did not have a digital presence that gave the brand an edge over their competitors. Ahrendts looked for inspiration at Fortune 500 digital leaders like Apple, Google, Nike, and Starbucks. With the help of her Chief Creative Officer (CCO), Christopher Bailey, she turned Burberry into one of the most prominent digital space players.
In an article in Harvard Review, Ahrendts revealed that she thought she was the best fit for the brand as she used her love and admiration of great brands to transform Burberry into the fashion social media icon that it currently is.
The arrival of digital to fashion transformed the industry and revolutionized the shopping experience like never before. Burberry’s success was tied to its willingness to be creative and change business strategies while staying up-to-date with all the new trends. They believed in their product and focused on their strengths, perfectly executed their strategy, and engaged with all types of consumers with different content, from brand loyalists to critics. This all-encompassing digital approach was their blueprint for success and established Burberry’s reputation as a pioneering digital innovator in fashion. During Ahrendts’ tenure at Burberry, the company’s stock price more than tripled.
“Her background as CEO of Burberry and the last five years at Apple established Ahrendts as one of the most respected retail visionaries and executives around,” said Daniel Ives, Managing Director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. “She was clearly an asset for Cupertino, especially as the company was looking to innovate the design and vibe of its flagship Apple retail stores around the world.”
After her role at Burberry, she was approached by the tech giant Apple that tasked her with revamping its stores and boosting employee morale. They also gave her the charge of making the buying process at its outlets feel more like a luxury experience similar to what she had executed at Burberry and improve the merger of its digital and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences.
Ahrendts recalls the first time she chatted with Tim Cook, “The very first time we chatted,” “it was an honour to meet him, but my mission was to talk him out of me. So I said, don’t believe everything you read: I am not a techie. Honestly, ask my daughter, I am not. And he was so calm. He just shook his head and said, ‘I think we have 10,000 of those, I think we’re covered there.'” “At one point [Tim] just looked at me and said, ‘You know you’re supposed to be here.’ And I said, how do you know that?” Because I watched your TED talk,” said Cook. “And trust me, you’re supposed to be here.”
She built up Apple’s internal systems for running and developing retail successfully and then turned her focus to launch the Today at Apple idea of turning stores into meeting places. In 2015 she did tell the Bailiwick Express that: “We’re just piloting some things, and I think the overarching thing is I think you can expect the stores to become hopefully a little calmer, but yet a little more dynamic, and maybe slightly more aligned to the same feeling you get when you go into our products. Because maybe the store is really just a giant product.” By the time Ahrendts left the company, she had made more than $170 million as their Retail Chief.
Ahrendts lives by this philosophy that has helped her transform every company she has worked for, “Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you build one with your employees first, and the rest automatically falls in place.”