HEAD OF THE CLASS: Leave it to the Harvard Business Review to turn a 90th anniversary party into a three-lecture learning experience. Burberry’s Angela Ahrendts, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz and Johnson & Johnson’s Alex Gorsky were among the panelists. The Jazz at Lincoln Center crowd included USA Today’s Larry Kramer, Ogilvy PR Global’s Chris Graves, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Josh Tyrangiel and author Bruce Feiler.
En route to Chicago for a store opening, Burberry’s chief executive officer made a pit stop in New York to talk digital and Millennials. With more than 14 million Facebook fans, Burberry is banking on its digital platform to further growth. “We feel pretty strongly that this whole mobile metamorphosis is going to be as transformative as the Internet was,” Ahrendts said. “Even in our industry, 25 percent of the purchases that were done over the past holiday weekend were done by a mobile device.”
The British brand is challenging itself by putting a mobile lens on everything, not just about learning about the customer and defining the customer through the social sphere and the store they shop in, she said during a discussion with the Rotman School of Management’s Roger Martin and HCL Technologies’ Vineet Nayar. “I think it will fundamentally change everything again just as the desktop [computer] did years ago,” Ahrendts said. “More people go to burberry.com every week than 500 stores around the world combined.”
Like Starbucks’ Schultz, who headlined the final session and repeatedly called for ceo’s to have a greater social consciousness, Ahrendts said, “We do feel a social obligation in this day and age to use the power of our performance to give back to communities. We keep asking ourselves, ‘What else can we do? How can we leverage this [digital] platform that we’ve built.’ Burberry Beyond is the job-training program that we’ve launched around the world. The onus is on companies today. I don’t think governments and big institutions can fix things. The stronger companies get there is a lot of trust and transparency. And it’s our obligation to continue that.”