Apple Retail chief Angela Ahrendts makes surprise exit

Image of Deirdre O’Brien

Image of Deirdre O’Brien

Every Apple retail store location offers innovative programs for customers, including Today at Apple, created to unlock creativity, inspire learning and encourage connection.

Angela Ahrendts will leave Apple in April for "new personal and professional pursuits", her duties being taken over by retail and people senior vice president Deirdre O'Brien who will report to chief executive Tim Cook, the company said in an online post.

She is one of its highest paid executives, earning almost twice as much as boss Tim Cook in 2017. Upon her departure, Deirdre O'Brien will be stepping into the role of Senior Vice President of Retail + People.

Apple profits held steady in the most recent quarter, with revenue growth in music, movies, apps and other services offsetting iPhone sales that were down 15 percent from the same period in 2017. She quickly turned Apple stores into stylish showcases for the company's high-end devices, including the Watch which was initially marketed as a luxury product, with some models costing more than $10 000.

For many months a year ago, customers seeking to exchange batteries, as part of a low-priced battery replacement program for iPhones, had to wait several days for their repairs to take place in stores.

Ahrendts is departing the company after five years of guiding the retail and Apple Store strategy and was previously the CEO of fashion retailer Burberry.

Apple's retail stores are among the most profitable in the world, and under Ahrendts the performance improved.

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Well-known Angela Ahrendts joined Apple in 2014 from fashion company Burberry after John Bowett left through Apple's doors two years earlier in 2012 after a very short stay at Apple.

"Her focus was integrating the online and offline experience, which in some ways took the focus away from an excellent in-store experience", said Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures.

In December, as Apple executives anxious about demand, the company asked retail employees to promote the new iPhones using methods not seen before.

"If Apple is going to sell music, video, podcasts, this should be a part of the store experience", Gerber said. "Through the teams' collective efforts, retail has never been stronger or better positioned to make an even greater contribution for Apple".

By aligning retail and HR under one leader, maybe O'Brien will be able to identify more quickly anyone who doesn't have the right sort of soul, the Apple soul, and can despatch them more efficiently with her HR hat on.

O'Brien has worked at Apple for about three decades. "I look forward to watching how this unbelievable team, under her leadership, will continue to change the world one person and one community at a time". But I do wonder: What happens if the time comes when Apple must change course to ensure that its storefronts remain a mind-blowingly triumphant success in what has been a hardscrabble century, so far, for the retail business?

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