Why a Burberry CEO is the perfect fit for Apple, by Neil Duffy, managing director, Interbrand London

The recent announcement of Angela Ahrendts’ move from Burberry to Apple to head its retail operation caused a media storm and prompted more questions than it answered:

Why would a successful CEO of a leading public company take a lesser role, even if it’s with Apple?

What does it say about CEO Tim Cook’s longer-term tenure at Apple, and where does it sit with Apple’s hiring of Paul Deneve (former CEO and president of Yves-Saint Laurent)?

How will Christopher Bailey fare moving from creative director to CEO at Burberry?

However, for me, the most interesting part of the news was what it says about the Apple and Burberry brands, and the blurring in definition of what each of them stand for and why they exist.

Ahrendts has been credited with the successful delivery of ground-breaking changes at Burberry: rescuing the brand from its perceived move downmarket; cleaning up its licensing arrangements to be able to own and lead the brand; and the successful nurturing of those markets that in the 21st century will see the highest growing desire for luxury.

However, all of this has been underpinned by a highly advanced understanding of the impact of technology. Burberry has interwoven technology elegantly into its core. It understands the internet, has embraced social media confidently, and manages the interface between the physical and virtual with panache. A classic example of this was the RFID-enabled personalised content via the A/W13 runway show, bringing the catwalk to a vastly larger audience than ever before but in an intriguing and compelling manner. It could be argued that, during Ahrendts’ tenure, Burberry has become a technology company as much as a retailer in the traditional sense. Even its tone of voice reflects this: on the website introducing Burberry’s Travel Tailoring, you are invited to “explore the technology”.

Apple meanwhile has matched its revolutionary innovations in technology with its emergence as a world-class retailer. Apple Stores are experiential destinations in the cities where they are present, commanding enviable sales per square foot and providing environments that underpin and enhance their “simplifying technology” positioning.

In recent times Burberry has rolled out hugely impressive flagships in London, Chicago, Hong Kong, and Milan and plans 25 store openings in 2014 – strong physical growth while maintaining the Financial Times’ opinion of the company as “the most connected brand in luxury”.

Within this context it is little wonder that Ahrendts was of huge appeal to Apple and also that she will be senior vice-president of both retail and online stores.

This is the story of two brands, starting in very different places, but converging strategically as global luxury brands which command a long-term premium for their products and long-term loyalty from their customers.

Neil Duffy, managing director, Interbrand London

Creative Moment Awards 2020