“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
~ Thomas Jefferson

As consumer tastes change, so must companies, or else they quickly become extinct. As a clothier with 150+ years of history, Burberry has had to reinvent itself to stay relevant in the digital age. Best known for its iconic trench coats, the luxury fashion house had lost much of its appeal by the 1990s. Thanks to the empowering leadership of CEO Angela Ahrendts, Burberry has been able to transform its brand image from stodgy to stylish in recent years.

Business strategies, like fashion lines, have a short shelf life. Yesterday’s innovations are tomorrow’s relics. For this reason, leaders must create agile, adaptive organizations that easily can switch directions to meet the ever-evolving needs of customers. However, flexibility does not mean rootlessness. Great organizations stay in touch with consumer preferences without losing track of their identity.

Angela Ahrendts consciously has empowered the next generation to set the creative direction of Burberry. Trusting the intuitions of a younger set of leaders, she has emphasized the role of Internet technology and social media in developing the brand. Resultantly, Burberry’s digital connection with customers serves as its primary differentiator, and though a relatively old company, Burberry exudes freshness and originality.

In most organizations, senior leaders make important decisions and then delegate the workload to a supporting cast of younger coworkers. Burberry flips the model. The company has formed Strategic Innovation Councils to capture the creative energy and insights of the younger segment of its work force. Ideas birthed by the councils guide the brand, and elder leaders simply lend their functional expertise to implement them.

If tapping its youthful creativity helps Burberry to swim with the currents, then highlighting its heritage keeps the brand from being swept off course. During her time at Burberry, Ahrendts has been meticulous about preserving and perpetuating its core identity. In her mind, the faster the company innovates, the more important reiterating its values becomes.

Questions for Application:

As a leader, how are you empowering the next generation of leaders in your organization to exert their creative influence?
As a leader, what are you doing to infuse the values of your organization into its systems and structures and to transfer those values to the next generation?

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