James Moore: How Burberry's Angela Ahrendts will find herself facing the crunch over at Apple

Outlook "Do you still think I'm pretty?" is the lament of Apple's virtual PA app Siri in Microsoft's latest US ad, after she bemoans all the features the iPad lacks by comparison to Microsoft's Surface. As an attack ad, it's entertaining but still completely misses the point.

Because we do think iPads are pretty. Apple's success has been based on the fact that its products combine substance with lots of style. They command a premium price as a result. Late founder Steve Jobs was once famously fretful over ugly-looking screws used for the interior of one of those products even though they wouldn't be seen by consumers.

This ethos extends to the retail stores which Burberry's Angela Ahrendts has been poached to run.

Pretty is what they are. Spacious, stylish, and populated by bright, youthful and, yes pretty staff (the adjective applies to male as well as female models). They are showrooms for Apple's suite of pretty products.

Which is where John Browett, the former Dixons boss, fired and missed. He not only angered staff and customers with his plan to cut costs and impose redundancies at Apple stores, but (even worse) was partly responsible for a breathtakingly silly ad campaign (extolling the virtues of Apple staff).

Can Ms Ahrendts, another UK company CEO, albeit an American national, succeed where he failed? Selling style she clearly knows. On her watch Burberry has become a stock market superstar, a rare British retailer to not only survive but thrive beyond these shores. Wherever there is a growing economy throwing off consumers able to afford its prices, you will find Burberry.

It hasn't been a one-woman show. The creative director Chistopher Bailey deserves a big share of the credit. But as new CEO he will have to contend with a slower China than Ms Ahrendts enjoyed and the challenge of managing investors' sky-high expectations.

One of the key skills of the successful CEO is knowing when to leave. Burberry's prospects are hardly dim, but as Ms Ahrendts' successor Mr Bailey faces a tough job to maintain Burberry's pace.

Ms Ahrendts' challenge is no less daunting. She appears to be a better fit for a bigger role than Mr Mr Browett had and bringing her on board is an interesting move by Apple alongside its hiring of another luxury goods man, former Yves Saint Laurent boss Paul Deneve, for "special projects". For which read the iWatch? Apple's products might be pricey, but even with their premium they're just about affordable. They're still mass market rather than luxury. Pushing too far in that direction could be very dangerous.

As for Ms Ahrendts, she was the master of Burberry's destiny but at Apple she will be just a lieutenant. She'll have to fit in with the culture rather than defining it. That's something that hasn't always always proved easy at Apple.

Comments