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Balancing creativity & business: Christopher Bailey at Burberry

Leadership

Earlier this month Burberry formally announced the news that following the departure of Angela Ahrendts to Apple, Christopher Bailey is now the first creative director of a public luxury company to take on the additional role of CEO. Can he balance the demands of creativity and business as he takes on the challenge of managing 11,000 employees and roughly £2bn in annual revenue?

As The Guardian’s financial editor Nils Pratley sees it: “It’s hard to see why the fashion house thinks it can replace a very successful CEO by asking its creative guru to do two jobs. This would be a little like Manchester United choosing not to have a dedicated club manager but instead making main goalscorer Robin van Persie the player-manager.”

Bailey seems willing to give it a try, as he says himself in an interview with Fast Company: “It’s really important to be disruptive and do things that actually are kind of a little scary and bold. You’ve got to push yourself and push yourself out of your comfort zone.”

“As soon as you get tight and stuck in your little way–‘This is how we do it’–well, that was written like that two years ago and now it’s not like that. So it’s always this weird balance of process, structure, thought, data, but then also experiment, innovation, curiosity.”

But it is not only his perspective that is earning him confidence from the media; it is the relationships and teams that he has built up during his 13 years at Burberry. For seven years Ahrendts and Bailey worked closely together, leading many to believe that there will be minimal changes after this change in leadership, as the two CEOs’ visions for the company are so similar. Bailey has also named Luc Goidadin as new Design Chief and it is thought that their close partnership will allow him to maintain creative involvement, despite the additional attentiveness his role as CEO will require.

In numerous interviews Bailey has been heard discussing his thoughts on letting go of less important things and focusing on high priorities. Fashionista’s Lauren Indvik discussed Bailey taking a step back from the creative side, using the success of Burberry’s autumn/winter 2014 collection to demonstrate that the Burberry design team is strong enough to allow Bailey to have less involvement. Indvik stated, “If the collection is anything to go by, Burberry’s creative direction remains in good hands. Now we’ll have to see about the business.”

It is this final comment that sums up the overall response to Bailey’s promotion. While he is widely respected for his creative influence and command and grounded attitude, it is his business leadership that is under question. Shares fell sharply when Ahrendts’ departure was announced, although they have recovered since then. As Vanessa Friedman from The Financial Times stated, “[…] today will either mark the moment the creative and corporate sides, long silo-ed, finally merged, or the moment that great experiment failed.”

We’ll watch with interest, but for now we’ll leave the last word to Bailey, quoted here in The Guardian: “There will be no radical change to Burberry’s strategy. Burberry today is brilliantly positioned for future growth. We are an old British company with the energy and drive and global outlook of a young one.”

Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes via Compfight cc

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