Bottom Line: New boss has big shoes to fill and very little experience

Elizabeth Fournier

IT MIGHT seem churlish to assume that just because Christopher Bailey is a fashion designer, he might not know his way around a financial statement.

Plenty of designers before him have founded labels and led them to commercial success – notably Tom Ford, the former Gucci and YSL creative director who jumped ship in 2004 to launch an eponymous brand, and Victoria Beckham, the ex-Spice Girl whose label made sales of £15.4m last year.

But up until now Bailey’s role has been firmly focused on the creative side of the business – despite rumblings of a shift to the corporate side when he was made chief creative director in 2009 and handed responsibility for the group’s ad campaigns and social media.

Stepping into the boardroom could still be something of a shock. Bailey loves the personal touch – saying at a Vogue festival last year that he “tr[ies] to make everything kind of small” – from knowing the models who walk his catwalks to casting adverts. That’s all very well, but he’s unlikely to have time for that in between meeting investors and negotiating franchise buyouts across Asia. There’s also a danger he’s been handed a wobbly ship. Though Burberry’s retail operations turned in a strong performance in both Europe and Asia yesterday, wholesale slumped, with revenues expected to come in flat for the whole year.

Combined with Ahrendt’s warning just last week that the Chinese slowdown could be the new normal, Bailey has a difficult task ahead.

Though he certainly has a good team around him – with experienced chairman Sir John Peace adding his backing to the appointment yesterday – the board looks hugely diminished without its powerhouse CEO.

What’s in no doubt is that Tim Cook has scored a coup in hiring Ahrendts. She deserves huge credit for what she’s achieved at Burberry, and Apple will be the richer for her international vision and strategies.

Unfortunately for Bailey, Burberry’s investors know that too. He has a lot to prove – and fast.