With a continuous array of creative directors oscillating in connection with their positions at some of the industry’s most noteworthy design houses – from Consuelo Castiglioni, who has stepped down from his position at Marni to Peter Dundas, who was recently ousted from Roberto Cavalli – a look back at an article penned by ex-Burberry CEO, Angela Ahrendts shortly after her departure from the British brand (she opted for a position at Apple), is warranted.
As you’ll know from my earlier posts, I firmly believe in following your intuition, especially in relation to the most important decisions in your life. When I joined Burberry in 2006, it was not without a lot of reflection – I had an incredible role and a fantastic team in New York, and family life was finally beginning to show some semblance of balance. The idea of uprooting our lives to move to London demanded a lot of soul searching and over months of consideration I thought it over so much I realized I was in danger of losing touch with how I truly felt about the opportunity. In the final analysis I realized my truest guide would be my intuition – which told me I would have the greatest partner in Christopher Bailey and that together we could build the company we always dreamed of working for.
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.
As I prepare to start a new chapter in my career, I have had much cause to reflect on what our global teams have achieved these past eight years in creating not only a great brand, but a really great company. Because for me Burberry’s true success is measured not by financial growth or brand momentum, but by something much more human: one of the most connected, creative and compassionate cultures in the world today, steeped in common values and beliefs, and united around a shared vision. Today, I can honestly say that Burberry is the company I had always dreamed of working for.
So the experience of the past eight years has served to reinforce my firm belief that ‘it’s all about people’. And this has never been in sharper focus than in recent weeks, as we have begun the process of transitioning to new leadership at Burberry.
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.
Shouldn’t our ambition as leaders be to make a transition something to be celebrated rather than merely managed? And isn’t the reality that a successful transition could in fact be your greatest legacy?
When we announced recently that Christopher Bailey would succeed me at Burberry in the newly created role of Chief Creative and Chief Executive Officer, I felt such peace. Not only because I believe Christopher is one of the sector’s greatest visionaries and Burberry’s natural next leader, but also because my instincts told me he and the senior team were fully ready for me to pass the baton. After years of hiring and fostering the best talent, as well as constantly evolving the organization to optimize the opportunities available to the brand, the team and the culture have never been stronger. Intuitively I knew this meant the time was right for me to exit stage left, trusting that Burberry would only go from strength to strength in its next exciting chapter.
My instincts were confirmed when we shared the news with the wider organization. At this most significant moment, Christopher and I knew our most important job as leaders was to communicate openly and transparently with our global teams, taking each and every one of our 11,000 associates on the journey with us. Leveraging our internal social media platform, we posted a special video message to share the news internally at the same time as it was announced externally and allowing anyone to post a question, thought or reflection directly to us, or with anyone in the business. Where we could connect in person with our associates in London we did, holding open Q&A sessions that touched everyone in our headquarters, and stores, throughout the first day. And where geography got in the way, we connected via live video conference with teams around the world.
Our priority throughout was to stay true to the principles of open and honest communication that characterize our culture, and to create a human connection that would allow everyone in the organization to feel the same excitement that Christopher and I feel about Burberry’s next phase. The result was that the announcement of this change has united the teams more closely than ever.
As I look around Burberry now, a few weeks later and on the heels of an historic first-half performance, our teams are visibly energized to take Burberry into the future to assure its relevance for the next 150 years.
And as I look forward to what will define the next generation, I believe it is imperative that great companies add greater social value – the larger the company, the larger the obligation. At Burberry our underlying foundation is to give back and share our creative thinking culture to the wider communities where we live and work. This is not only our responsibility but also reinforces and connects our team towards a higher purpose we’re all serving. 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.