Note: These are notes from the Catalyst Atlanta 2013. Rough and unedited.
Ken Coleman is interviewing.
KC: Tell us a bit of your story. How did you ascend to one of the most influential women in business.
Angela Ahrendts: She’s one of six children. Raised with a very spiritual mother and philosophical father. Born a dreamer, often told to take off her rose-colored glasses.
Always dreamed of getting into the fashion industry. Went off to Ball State University where she studied merchandising and marketing.
Got out of school in 3 years, went to New York and live her dream.
KC: Talk about staying true to who Burberry is and moving forward. How do you balance that?
AA: Talk about core values. They always talk about being born from a coat. Meaning heritage of the company.
They’re here to serve. This generation’s job to polish everything during their tenure for when they pass it off to the next generation.
Taking this stance removes the ego. The brand will long outlive everyone involved.
Core values are:
The trenchcoat is the oldest thing Burberry has yet it’s at the forefront.
KC: It’s good that you know who you were but you knew you had to do a turnaround. It’s scary so what did you learn about not losing your identity?
AA: They closed many businesses. A legacy cleanup.
Unless you can fill stadiums, sell coats, etc you’re not doing what needs to be done.
One, pure laser view
Look for what’s not working and needs to go away. Then get rid of it.
The hardest thing for people to do is change, to move on.
Consumers are evolving quickly. The onus is on big businesses to evolve quickly to the customer’s need.
If the brand doesn’t evolve, more people will lose their jobs.
KC: Culture, culture, culture. What are some practical things you changed about culture?
AA: Culture is critical. Five hard strategies – company. Five soft strategies – culture.
Clear, simple vision.
Tell everyone where you’re going.
Write new, exciting chapters. Share it with them. Over-communicate so there’s no fear.
Let trust, intuition, and belief build the foundation.
KC: Authenticity. Share with the leaders why it’s so important what you’re doing.
AA: Tough question. She doesn’t understand why people wouldn’t be authentic. Choose never to forget where you came from. Go home often. Have deep roots.
We’re all born to do something. Job is to put ourselves into the right place at the right time. When you do that, life begins to fall into place.
If you’re not authentic how do you have an authentic life? People won’t be open and let their barriers down if you aren’t authentic.
Lives by do unto others. She puts herself into the other person’s position.
KC: Legacy. What do you see the legacy you’re casting and what does it look like beyond the retail?
AA: Don’t create a great brand, create a great company. Core-values, foundation. Put those into place.
Wants employees to know they belong.