Transforming an iconic fashion brand: Burberry's Rachel Byrne CA
Rachel Byrne CA joined Burberry Finance three years ago and, in that time, has seen the company not only transform and disrupt but also emerge as a leading pioneer in sustainability
In the lightning-quick world of global fashion, Burberry is, as they say, having a moment. A long moment.
Over the past couple of decades, the British retailer has done a 180, transforming its image and making heritage hip.
Still beloved for its signature check, iconic trench and high-quality craftsmanship, the brand has found a new generation of style-savvy fans devoted to its covetable collections, influential digital campaigns and hugely successful social media channels – 16.5 million Instagram followers and counting, by the end of 2019.
With the appointment of Italian CCO Riccardo Tisci in 2018, a new era for Burberry was set in motion.
The logo was refreshed for the first time in 20 years. But Burberry has also been transformed by technology in every aspect of the business, says Byrne, from product design to distribution and marketing.
“Digital innovation has never been more important in luxury, and we asserted our leadership in this area with our award-winning B Series.
It’s a monthly drop of limited-edition products on social platforms that has proved extremely popular and attracted new and younger customers to the brand.
We also partnered with Instagram to launch Checkout, a new feature that enables customers to buy products directly from the Burberry Instagram shop for a more seamless shopping experience.
“As for my role, technology, data and analytics advancements are having a huge impact, allowing automation and process improvements alongside the ability to access larger volumes of both financial and non-financial data – which means deeper commercial and strategic insights.
"The finance professional has a big role to play in helping businesses assess how to invest in the right tech and data and analytics solutions.”
Sustainability in style
If sustainability is the new black, then Burberry is redefining black. In 2019, when global awareness of and activism around environmental issues reached peak Tunberg, Burberry launched a capsule collection made from Econyl, a sustainable nylon fibre made from regenerated fishing nets, surplus fabric scraps and industrial plastic – not materials associated with traditional luxury.
“Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible,” Byrne says.
“Burberry is committed to being an industry leader in responsible and sustainable luxury fashion – it underpins everything we do.
"Our responsibility agenda aims to drive positive change and build a more sustainable future.
"We’ve set ambitious goals for 2022 in three focus areas: positively impact one million people, drive positive change through all products, and be carbon neutral and revalue waste.”
With impressive progress already being made against goals including better cotton procurement, the phasing out of real fur, reduced emissions, improved energy efficiency and community training and work experience, Burberry was named the leading luxury brand on the 2018 Dow Jones Sustainability Index, which measures performance against economic, environmental and social criteria.
Byrne says she is proud to work for a company that “continues to lead the way in building a more sustainable future for luxury fashion."
"We innovated with raw materials and introduced Econyl for women’s and men’s outerwear and bags.
"And I particularly like that thanks to an innovative manufacturing technique, Burberry developed a new sustainable packaging, which is 40% recycled coffee cups.”
The new luxury agenda
As digital marketers fight over eyeballs, wallets and brand loyalty with increasingly sophisticated campaigns, so the in-store experience must follow through by upping its game, particularly in the luxury sector.
To align with the brand’s new vision and Tisci’s aesthetic, Burberry revamped key stores in London, Paris, New York, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo.
“It’s clear that social media is a significant part of the luxury customer journey, particularly in the inspiration phase, and retail needs to keep pace with this,” Byrne says.
“Social media and store experiences play an increasingly important role in inspiring luxury consumers.
"To respond to this, we’ve entered into an exclusive partnership with Tencent [the Chinese gaming giant] to develop social retail in China.
"Together we’ll pioneer a concept that blends social media and retail, creating digital and physical spaces for engaged communities to interact, share and shop.
"The partnership will begin with Burberry opening a social retail store powered by Tencent technology in Shenzhen, China, in the first half of 2020.”
Accounting for change
Having managed so much change in such a short time, what advice would Byrne give to fellow ICAS members whose organisations are going through a similar transformation?
“It’s a real privilege to work for a brand during such an exciting period and the huge variety this brings,” says Byrne.
“One of my learnings is the critical importance of communication. It’s vital that the vision and objective behind any transformation is clear and communicated in a way that engages individuals and galvanises teams towards a common goal.
"Where I’ve seen it work well, comms plans are never an afterthought but instead a fundamental pillar in any project plan, with an established information-sharing cadence throughout all layers of the business to drive a real sense of ownership.
“I’m lucky in that I get to partner with two incredibly interesting areas of the business and work with talented people every day,” Byrne adds.
“I manage a team of five and a typical day is varied, from supporting the marketing and digital leadership teams on various projects and initiatives to managing the actuals, forecast, budget and strategic plan process.
"My ICAS training and qualification has been the foundation of my career and has allowed me to move through a variety of roles in audit, tax, planning and analysis, finance transformation, investor relations and now business partnering.
"It’s not just a highly regarded qualification, it also provides me with a strong network of other finance professionals.”
This article first appeared in the February 2020 issue of CA magazine.