3 Ways Burberry’s CEO Will Impact Apple’s New Spaceship-Style Headquarters

Apple’s latest high-profile hire Angela Ahrendts has deep experience designing corporate headquarters as the CEO of Burberry. Here’s how she might influence Apple’s new campus.


On Tuesday, Cupertino’s city council unanimously voted to green light Apple’s new sprawling campus, essentially the last major hurdle for the company before it begins plans for construction later this year. While much has been made of how meticulously designed Apple’s new spaceship-style headquarters is–“We’ve designed it with the same care and attention to detail as we do with all Apple products,” Apple’s real estate head Dan Whisenhunt recently said–little has been revealed about the facility’s internal design and purpose–an area ripe for influence from the company’s latest high-profile hire, Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts.


Earlier this week, Apple announced that Ahrendts would be joining the company as its new senior vice president of retail, reporting to CEO Tim Cook. Immediately, the press started imagining the various ways she could change Apple, given her unique approach to product, marketing, and store design, online and off. But what hasn’t been covered yet is how Ahrendts might impact the direction of Apple’s new headquarters, from its design to the culture it aims to foster.

Office culture is crucial to creativity and product.

With more than 2.8 million square feet of office space being built on roughly 176 acres of land, Apple’s new headquarters will be nearly the size of the Pentagon–and with a budget to match. It’s said that the construction will take years and cost an estimated $5 billion, a controversial price tag considering the significant decline in Apple’s share price in the last year. Apple will need all the support it can get to push the project through to the end–and Ahrendts could certainly help in this regard.

In 2008, at Burberry, Ahrendts realized the company needed a change. The Burberry team was split among roughly five different offices around London, a structure that splintered the company’s merchants, designers, and other departments. “Very early [on], we said, ‘No, everyone has to be together,'” Ahrendts recalled at Fast Company‘s Innovation By Design conference earlier this month. “[So] we found this amazing building…[but] convincing the board that we had to move headquarters because it was the greatest thing for the brand was a great challenge.”

Indeed, due to the project’s ballooning costs, it’s likely a challenge Apple will continue to face with shareholders, though at a much larger scale than Ahrendts faced at Burberry. But Ahrendts understands the importance of rallying the company around a central home base. “If you really are going to be a great brand, I don’t think that it’s just in the products that you produce,” she said. “I think that it’s [about] the environment where everyone lives. Because your associates are your greatest brand ambassadors. And if they don’t feel the brand, how are they going to create the products that really emulate the brand? The headquarters were really critical from a brand and cultural perspective.”

Corporate structure and symbolism matter.


Beyond culture, of course, the organization of Apple’s new space is crucial to its success. Apple plans to house up to 14,200 employees at its circular, four-story building, a potential logistics nightmare. Ahrendts had to deal with a similar headache at Burberry.

“When you get to design a new headquarters, [you] strategically decide where everyone is going to sit and why, and where you want the entrance and why,” Ahrendts explained at our design conference. She and her soon-to-be-successor Christopher Bailey chose not to hire an outside design firm for the internal layout. “We literally sat down and decided there would be one main entrance…[we decided] there [would be] one elevator bank; we put a main café on the first floor…we wanted energy constantly; we wanted the movement of people,” Ahrendts said.

Symbolic layout design is a common theme in Silicon Valley that has become a corporate cliché. Tech giants ranging from Microsoft to Google talk about the importance of sitting engineers near designers–of providing staircases and centralized pathways that force interaction between disparate groups. Apple’s chief designer Jony Ive and top engineer Craig Federighi, for example, supposedly sit just one minute apart from another. Ahrendts took this idea a step further at Burberry.

“We strategically took the entire top floor and made it all design,” she said. “Because we said that everyone has to know that design is at the top. We’re a design-driven company, and that will set the stage. And then we put the merchants right below them and the marketers.”

Such a hierarchy is likely not necessary at Apple, where design is so embedded in the culture at all levels. But it’s another signal that Ahrendts and Apple are on the same page.

There are no satellite offices.


While much attention has been paid to Apple’s new campus in Cupertino, it’s important to remember that the company is not confined to the Bay Area. With 80,000 employees, Apple boasts offices around the globe. Burberry is no different, though it has a smaller foot print. When Ahrendts was transitioning the company into its new headquarters, she immediately recognized the need to recalibrate how Burberry’s satellite offices operated.

“We didn’t just do [a redesign] in London,” she explained. “No matter where in the world you go, from Hong Kong to Shanghai to New York, if you walk into the lobby or anywhere in any of our facilities, they all look identical.”

Ahrendts felt it was critical for the company to maintain a consistent identity worldwide–not just through aesthetics but also in how the offices function together. “They’re all connected; you can connect [with] every office at every facility,” she explained. “When we have conference calls, it looks like we’re all in the same room–the table just literally extends.”

“With 11,500 associates, they are our brand ambassadors; they’re traveling constantly; they have to feel the same thing [as we do],” Ahrendts continued. “It’s not a satellite office–they too are a part of the mothership. We’re all one.”

Mothership? Sounds pretty familiar.

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.