Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Angela Ahrendts: The Burberry CEO who reinvented a heritage brand for the digital age

By Sheena McKenzie, for CNN
October 15, 2013 -- Updated 1707 GMT (0107 HKT)
Burberry chief executive Angela Ahrendts will leave the luxury goods firm next year to join technology giant Apple.
Burberry chief executive Angela Ahrendts will leave the luxury goods firm next year to join technology giant Apple.
  • Who is Angela Ahrendts, new Apple vice president of retail and online?
  • Mother-of-three snubbed the Oscars to spend time with family
  • Grew up one of six siblings in Indiana and dreamed of working in fashion
  • Helped turn around Burberry, fashion know-how may be used in new Apple iWatch

Editor's note: Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time -- remarkable professionals who have made it to the top in all areas of business, the arts, sport, culture, science and more.

(CNN) -- The Oscars. Perhaps the most sought-after red carpet invitation in the world. And Angela Ahrendts turned it down.

It says a lot about the 53-year-old chief executive of Burberry, who today announced she would be leaving the British clothing firm to join technology giant Apple as its new vice president for retail and online stores.

Read: Apple poaches Burberry CEO

This is a woman who prioritizes family above all -- and that includes rubbing shoulders with the crème de la crème of Hollywood at lavish gala events.

The same mother-of-three who married her childhood sweetheart Gregg, and reportedly tries to limit herself to one night out a week.

Tech CEO dares staff to fail
From the family farm to the U.N.
Is 'giving back' in your work ethic?

And the same woman who this year became the first female to top Britain's executive pay league, taking home a total £16.9 million ($27 million). Unsurprisingly, "balance" is a big word in Ahrendts' life.

She turned down an invite to the Academy Awards because: "It's not more important than my husband. It's not more important than my kids. It's not more important than Burberry," she said in an interview with British newspaper The Sunday Times.

"I don't want to be a great executive without being a great mom and a great wife. I don't want to look back and say I wish I had done things differently."

Fashion forward

Growing up as one of six siblings in the small town of New Palestine in Indiana, Ahrendts gained a merchandise and marketing degree from Ball State University before rising up the ranks of fashion houses Donna Karan International, Henri Bendal, and Liz Claiborne.

In 2006 she headed to Britain, joining Burberry as its CEO, and revitalizing the century-old company which had seen its iconic check pattern become the favored print of minor celebrities and rip-off merchants.

Indeed, Ahrendts has been credited with rescuing the Burberry brand from the clutches of the masses and placing it on the top shelf of luxury living.

Thanks to Ahrendts, Burberry is now not only cool but synonymous with glamor. Revenues have nearly tripled to more than $3 billion and Ahrendt herself was catapulted to 53 on the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women list this year.

Watch: Angela Ahrendts -- 'profits are up'

"Burberry is in brilliant shape," said Ahrendt in a statement today.

"Having built the industry's most powerful management team, converted the business to a dynamic digital global retailer, created a world class supply chain, state of the art technology infrastructure, sensational brand momentum and one of the most closely connected creative cultures in the world today."

She will be replaced by chief creative officer Christopher Bailey, who has been in the role for six years, and her departure means there are now just two female chief executives in the FTSE 100 -- Imperial Tobacco chief Alison Cooper and EasyJet's Carolyn McCall.

Facebook generation

Burberry is a company that's been around 155 years. Nothing's short term. Everything is for the long term
Angela Ahrendts

What's the secret to Ahrendts' enormous success? A seemingly indefatigable work ethic appears to be one. This, after all, is the woman who reportedly rises at 4.35am and has a reliance on Diet Coke.

But there's also been her ability to tap into a new generation of digital consumers relying on social media for fashion trends, and increasingly buying online.

Burberry's Spring/Summer 2013 campaign video gained over one million YouTube views in just 48 hours. And the luxury brand now has 16 million fans on Facebook and more than two million followers on Twitter.

Wander around Burberry's London flagship store on Regent Street and you'll find sales assistants armed with iPads. Meanwhile mirrors transform into screens displaying catwalk images thanks to special technology sewn into some clothing and accessories.

What's more is that the actual store has been redesigned to recreate an experience that reflects the company's website, Burberry World Live.

"Burberry is a company that's been around 155 years. Nothing's short term. Everything is for the long term," she told CNN of her marketing plan in 2011.

After her seven years at Burberry, what Ahrendts will be most remembered for is her digital first approach that helped revitalize the century old fashion house into an upmarket luxury brand.

iWatch this space?

Ahrendts' fashion credentials helped her breathe new life into a British clothing institution. But with rumors that Apple is now keen to use her expertise on its new iWatch, could they also boost a sector increasingly delving into wearable technology?

After all, Apple's decision to hire Ahrendts comes just three months after it recruited Paul Deneve, the former chief executive of French luxury group Yves Saint Laurent.

And if anybody's up to the job of keeping up with cool kids of fashion, it's Ahrendts.

Part of complete coverage on
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1154 GMT (1954 HKT)
From Coco Chanel to DVF, CNN takes a look at celebrated fashion designers and the iconic pieces which launched their careers.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 1115 GMT (1915 HKT)
:KNOXVILLE, TN - MAY 28: Dolly Parton performs during a concert to benefit Dolly's Imagination Library & Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation at The University of Tennessee's Thompson-boling Arena on May 28, 2014 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: Debbie Harry of Blondie performs onstage at the Amnesty International Concert presented by the CBGB Festival at Barclays Center on February 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for CBGB)
When titans of music Dolly Parton and Debbie Harry perform at one of the biggest music festivals on the planet, Glastonbury, who will be crowned queen?
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
2 Caption:Avignon, FRANCE: Serb artist Marina Abramovic performs in 'The Biography Remix' directed by Michael Laub from Netherlands, 10 July 2005 at the Benoix-XII house during the Theater Festival held in Avignon southern France. AFP PHOTO ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT (Photo credit should read ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)
CNN meets Serbian-born New-York based performance artist Marina Abramovic, as she embarks on the most controversial show of her career.
May 9, 2014 -- Updated 1325 GMT (2125 HKT)
This Mother's Day, we're celebrating the many women in the world who have provided care, love and guidance for children who are not biologically their own.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 1506 GMT (2306 HKT)
She turned her bohemian beach style and love of ballet shoes into a billion-dollar brand. This week on Leading Women, fashion designer Tory Burch reveals her ultimate style guru.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1623 GMT (0023 HKT)
Meet Mo Abudu, the talk show host portraying a very different Africa. As a glamorous presenter, she also heads up Ebony Life TV network, based in Nigeria.
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 0936 GMT (1736 HKT)
A lone blonde woman, wrapped in nothing but a sarong, leads four camels and a little dog across one of the most inhabitable environments on Earth.
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
Their job is capturing the most horrifying images on Earth -- keeping their eyes open, where others must look away. Meet Kate Brooks and Gerda Taro, the war photographers of today and yesterday.
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
Gloria Steinem speaks onstage during Equality Now presents 'Make Equality Reality' at Montage Hotel on November 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
As Gloria Steinem turns 80, Kathleen McCartney highlights the remarkable life of the feminist so far.
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
Former U.S. State Deparment Anne-Marie Slaughter says Brad Pitt is 'posterchild for engaged fatherhood'.
May 7, 2014 -- Updated 0750 GMT (1550 HKT)
Ahead of the release of her 14th studio album, take a look at the remarkable career of Mariah Carey, who went from curly-haired girl next door to elusive chanteuse.
March 8, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
CNN hosted a Tweetchat on gender equality with special guests including Nobel Peace prize laureate Tawakkol Karman. Here's what you missed.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1059 GMT (1859 HKT)
From shaving her head for climate change to opting for a sustainable business model, Vivienne Westwood is simply unstoppable.
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
In what would be a dream come true for her alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw -- Sarah Jessica Parker has turned her love of fashion into a new shoe range with Manolo Blahnik.