I’m a Burberry stan, thanks to Geoffrey Williams, the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Burberry. His game-changing moves in diversifying the fashion industry have given Burberry an electric edge that continues to inject a breath of fresh air into the proudly British Burberry brand. In my mind, Williams is a game changer, a rule breaker, a pioneer. A firm believer in The Kim Kardashian Principle and a celebrity in his own right.
So, what does this leader, who studied at the legendary BRIT school in London, England (for all things performing arts), became a singer, and then an artist manager before crossing over to the darker side of corporate brand leadership, teach us all about lessons in life, leadership, and reinventing even the most traditional iconic brands from the inside out? After all, I’ve always said that our biggest brand ambassadors are our employees. (Oh and did I mention he’s just co-produced “Untold Stories: Hair on Set,” which premiered on Sky in October?)
First up, Geoffrey Williams talks a lot about the importance of self-awareness for effective leadership; and I’m here for it. The epicenter of all change starts from within, and I’ve personally witnessed the transformative power of leaders who acknowledge their blind spots. Research in the Journal of Applied Psychology also reveals that self-aware leaders seek feedback, learn from mistakes, and make better decisions. So, step out of your comfort zone, broaden your perspective, level up, and propel yourself towards greater success. After all, audiences today distrust those who project an image of perfection and it’s your flaws that make you fascinating. Why not own it?
Secondly, team vibes totally matter at Burberry. Geoffrey Williams emphasizes the need for brand leaders to pay attention to the weather around your teams; aka embrace the storm! I’ve spoken before about how diverse teams, as proven by Harvard Business Review studies, slay when it comes to innovation and making better decisions. So create an inclusive environment like the one Burberry continues to strive for that encourages collaboration and creativity. By curating teams with diverse skills and perspectives – it might not be the easiest way forward – but I believe you will unlock true potential and better impact the bottom line.
Lastly, personal branding and strategic communication are game-changers, according to Geoffrey Williams. A clear personal brand and consistent communication of your own values and vision inspire and motivate teams. Many of you who’ve read The Kim Kardashian Principle, know I believe this to be true. Research by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) shows that leaders with a well-defined personal brand better influence their teams. Furthermore, crafting a compelling narrative for your audience builds deeper connections and conveys key messages effectively according to the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies.
I vividly remember when Burberry married faith and fashion by introducing Sahib Singh, a fearless 4-year old Sikh boy as the superstar of their Children’s Autumn-Winter 2022 campaign; it was nothing short of revolutionary. The boy donned a black patka, a traditional Sikh head covering, showcasing Burberry’s latest children’s collection. And as someone of part Sikh heritage, it was a watershed moment. I had never seen a traditional Sikh head covering paired with a high fashion brand, or any high-profile British brand for that matter.
The move, in my mind, was the loudest shout-out to inclusivity and acceptance. It shattered barriers and shattered expectations. Yes, Burberry proved that by embracing fresh perspectives and honoring diverse cultures brands can create deep connections and resonate with a global family. But Burberry also showed us that true innovation lies in taking risks, rolling the dice, and in stepping into the unknown with unwavering faith. The result? A campaign that didn’t just steal hearts but sparked conversations and left countless people, like me, in awe of a level of representation never seen before.
So, to all the brand leaders out there, I urge you to take notes. Don’t be afraid to break free from the shackles of measured risk and corresponding reward. Make space for embracing experimentation, even if it means stepping into the unknown. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, it is through these bold moves that we can redefine what’s possible and create a world where everyone feels seen, heard, and celebrated. Burberry did it, Williams is doing it, and you can do it.
I’m sure Burberry’s reinvention from the inside out hasn’t been easy. Actually, I’m guessing it was probably a pain in the neck. And I’m pretty sure it’s a continuous challenge to push the culture, to change the culture. But what matters most is that Geoffrey Williams has shown it’s possible. So brand leaders, listen up. When the going gets tough, transcend the ordinary and emerge as a true visionary. In a world of Kevs, I’d say choose to be a Geoffrey.
Named Esquire’s Influencer Of The Year, Jeetendr Sehdev is a media personality, international speaker and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells (and How to Do It Right).