The amazing 2013 Year of the Woman continues in the technology sector. Apple’s hire of Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts is the capstone for an incredible year of female achievement. I already discussed Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s influential “Lean In” philosophy of corporate leadership. Then there was Marissa Mayer’s ascendancy at Yahoo in April. She started her stint as CEO by breathing new life into the company with the Tumblr acquisition and by banning tele-commuting, both gutsy shake-up moves. Now we have Ahrendts joining the Apple inner circle to oversee store development as head of retail and e-commerce.
Like Mayer, Ahrendts is known as a turnaround artist. She transformed Burberry from a stodgy fashion brand into the delight of hipsters – with disposable cash – the world over. Burberry was in danger of ossifying into British cultural memory. Now distinctive flagship stores dot pricey neighborhoods in cities like Chicago. But Apple doesn’t need to reboot its business model. The architect of Apple’s Genius Bar concept was Ron Johnson, he who would go on to steer J.C. Penney into a calamity of biblical proportions. What Apple does want is someone who knows how to shape the style sense of the higher end consumer. Apple has long since exceeded the dimensions of its original corporate mission. Apple is a brand that signifies a way of living, not simply a technology. Apple and Ahrendts are perfectly compatible because they speak eloquently to a modern lifestyle – not too extravagant, but sleek enough to be a cut above the average.
It’s not silly to ask: How does this hire actually benefit Ahrendts? After all, she was already making $25 million at Burberry’s. Why cross over into a new industry where the stakes are at their highest, even for Silicon Valley? After all, the Ron Johnson debacle is right in front of her as a cautionary tale. The answer is that new challenges are what drive innovators. More women than ever before are getting inspired by people like Ahrendts, and that is good news!