Christ­o­pher Bailey: The Yorkshireman filling Burberry’s boots

Kasmira Jefford
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Christopher Bailey will face shareholders at the AGM today for the first time as chief executive, but will he have the mettle?
There was a big elephant in the room – or rather on the line – when reporters dialled into the Burberry first quarter conf­erence call yesterday.

The luxury group’s new chief executive Christ­o­pher Bailey was conspicuously absent, as he was in May during the pre­liminary results call, leaving finance chief Carol Fairweather to lead the presentation.

Bailey is the story right now in the City and the person the investors want to hear – not just about his pay package, but about his vision for the group as he gets into his stride as the new top dog at the retailer.

But instead we got his sidekick. “There is a strong management team here and that is how we are leading the business,” Fairweather said yesterday on why he was not on the call.

His absence only prompts more questions about the elusive Yorkshireman and what will he be like as a chief executive.

Spotted by Donna Karan at the Royal College of Art in 1993, Bailey joined Burberry in 2001 after a stint as senior womenswear designer at Gucci.

Eight years later he was promoted to chief creative officer, a role that included overseeing every detail of the firm – from designing more than 50 collections a year, to laying out its stores and overseeing its ad campaigns, website and social media strategy.

His predecessor, Angela Ahrendts, has been described as “one of this generation’s greatest visionaries”. People who have met Bailey and worked with him have been quick to describe the new CEO as polite, humble, modest and as “self effacing as designers come”. Even his neighbours in Yorkshire aren’t aware that he was “the Bur­berry guy”, he told The Times.

Bailey is also not a fan of making public presentations, confessing to Shortlist magazine last year that he was “not a natural speaker” and that he “had to figure out [his] own way of speaking”.

In short, the fashion industry loves him and his talent is unquestionable, but what about his potential as chief executive and his standing among the investor community?

Berenberg analyst John Guy told City A.M: “I think Bailey is well perceived. He has been on the executive committee since 2009 and he is no stranger to being involved in high-level strategy and operational analysis, as well as having a strong track record on the creative side.

“But for those investors querying the combined role of chief executive and chief creative officer, should the top line falter, that dual role might come under scrutiny.”

The unusual twin role has unnerved investors given the size of the task and Bailey’s lack of experience running a company. But Bailey has been quick to push back against doubts about this clash of roles, telling analysts in November that art and commerce were “two sides of the same coin”.

Erwan Rambourg of HSBC said: “Yes the market doubts Bailey can do both the creative and the management jobs at the same time, but it is clear he doubts not, and the business acumen he has could surprise positively.”

Today’s AGM will show whether, as well as delivering financial results, Bailey can face shareholders’ questions over pay and handle the grittier side of being in the public eye.

We have always seen art and commerce not as opposing forces, but two sides of the same coin.

I’m not a natural speaker… But when I took this job, I had to figure out my own way of speaking, and it was quite a painful process for me, because I ended up looking like a real pr*ck in so many presentations.

I joined Burberry in 2001, though my love for the brand started many years before that with a trenchcoat that I inherited from my grandfather.

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