Within hours of the announcement that Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts was to leave the role in April, speculation was rife as to where she is headed.
Ahrendts, who led the fine-tuning of Apple’s retail business for five years after turning around British fashion house Burberry, has a stellar career in the luxury business. Several fashion industry sources have speculated she may be headed to take the helm of Ralph Lauren.
In a statement announcing the Apple retail chief’s departure, the company said she is leaving the company “for new personal and professional pursuits”. CEO Tim Cook described her departure as “bittersweet”.
During her time with Apple, Ahrendts – who was once tipped to take over Cook’s role in the future – has subtly redefined the Apple stores from high-end tech shops into community hubs. She took the renowned Apple Store concept created by predecessor Ron Johnson, dropped the “store” from its title and expanded the network to 506 physical stores and another 35 online.
“Her vision includes stores as gathering spaces and hubs for creativity,” observed Daphne Howard of Retail Dive.
“While Johnson is credited with initiating the brick-and-mortar strategy that has been the backbone of Apple’s hardware sales, including minimalist spaces conducive to product demos and customer education, Ahrendts has taken that [a step further].”
Apple’s retail business will now be overseen by Deirdre O’Brien, the company’s senior VP of people, who will add retail to an already long list of responsibilities including talent development, Apple University, recruiting, employee relations, business partnerships, benefits, compensation and inclusion, and diversity.
Some might see that as a sign Apple is reducing its focus on its retail business, although O’Brien might be considered something of an Apple acolyte, having been with the company for 30 years.