Apple’s head of retail and online stores, former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, is departing the tech giant after five years, CNN reported on Tuesday.
Ahrendts was not only one of the company’s highest-paid executives, but the sole senior female executive at the time of her hire in 2014. According to CNN’s report, Apple originally hired Ahrendts “as part of its efforts to strengthen its presence in China,” where the company has more recently seen flagging sales amid a slowing national economy and a still-ongoing trade war with the U.S. As the Wall Street Journal noted, Apple has also faced more general problems with mobile sales in recent months—for which a wide variety of causes have been asserted by journalists and industry analysts, none of them changing the fact that “iPhones sales declined 15% to $51.98 billion during the three months ended in December, the company’s biggest sales period.”
Ahrendts is officially scheduled to leave in April “for new personal and professional pursuits,” according to an Apple statement.
“I want to thank Angela for inspiring and energizing our teams over the past five years,” CEO Tim Cook added in the statement. “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.”
The Journal wrote:
During Apple’s most profitable run, Ms. Ahrendts presided over a sizable retail expansion that punctuated the company’s luxury-brand appeal and, more recently, close observers say she was a capable caretaker of Apple’s successful retail strategy but that little changed radically under her tenure.
“She doesn’t seem to have given the retail experience any forward-leaning point of view,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School. “Though they made some noise about creating a community center out of the store, I don’t think that had any traction.”
Ms. Ahrendts had enjoyed the support of Apple’s board over the years and had been viewed as a potential successor to Chief Executive Tim Cook, people close to the board said.
CNN reported that current vice president of human resources Deirdre O’Brien, a 30-year veteran at the company, will take over from Ahrendts’ tenure in a “new expanded role as the senior vice president of ‘retail and people.’”
As Ars Technica noted, O’Brien has previously overseen career development and internal training and education programs for the company’s 70,000 retail employees, so that’s perhaps not as atypical a choice as it might appear. The Journal reported that O’Brien already has some overlapping roles that also mesh nicely with her new position, such as demand forecasting. Selecting a veteran Apple executive to replace Ahrendts may also be an attempt to avoid a situation similar to one in 2012, when the company brought on John Browett as head of retail and left just six months later when (in his telling) he proved a poor cultural “fit.”