Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts will vacate her position and depart the company in April. A press release on Apple’s website says Ahrendts is leaving “for new personal and professional pursuits.” She holds the title of Senior Vice President, Retail, and reports directly to CEO Tim Cook.
In 2014, Ahrendts joined Apple from Burberry, where she had been CEO.
She had been credited with reversing negative trends and with Burberry transforming its business. She did this by devising a playbook that was inspired in part by Apple. Before that, she had worked in other executive, operational, and marketing roles in the fashion industry since the ‘80s.
In a statement about Ahrendts’ departure, Cook said, “I want to thank Angela for inspiring and energizing our teams over the past five years. She has been a positive, transformative force, both for Apple’s stores and the communities they serve. We all wish her the very best as she begins a new chapter.”
In the same release, Apple announced that Vice President of People Deidre O’Brien will take over Ahrendts’ responsibilities running retail and adopt the title Senior Vice President of Retail + People. O’Brien currently leads HR for the company, including recruiting, talent development, benefits, diversity, and more. O’Brien will also report to Cook.
Because she comes from HR, O’Brien might seem like an unusual fit. But Apple employs 70,000 people in retail, and she has been responsible for their career development to date. Apple also has extensive internal employee education programs which she has overseen, and education and training sessions are a major part of the new vision for Apple stores. O’Brien will assume the role after after more than three decades with the company.
Also, executive transitions in retail have not always gone smoothly for Apple. The company went without a retail head for more than a year starting in 2012. That’s when executive John Browett lasted only a few months in the position. Apple may have chosen a trusted executive like O’Brien to avoid similar turmoil.
Apple retail stores launched only a few years after Steve Jobs took the helm of the company two decades ago. Analysts and pundits predicted the stores would fail, but they became extremely successful and have been widely imitated in both technology and in other industries. The company has dedicated portions of its famous keynotes to discussing retail, and it is currently still expanding a new concept of stores that combines outdoor space, community center-like art walks and classes, and the original gadget showroom approach. Ahrendts was at the forefront of that initiative.