After leading Apple’s retail and online stores for five years, Angela Ahrendts, the tech giant’s Senior VP of Retail, will leave the company in April for “new personal and professional pursuits,” according to a company statement. Deirdre O’Brien, VP of People, will take on an expanded role as a Senior VP of Retail + People upon Ahrendts’ departure.
Ahrendts first joined Apple from Burberry, where she served as CEO from 2006 to 2014. As the company’s retail head, Ahrendts repositioned the company into more of a luxury-driven brand, even temporarily removing “stores” from Apple branding. The effort to reimagine the brand’s stores as “mini-town squares” strongly aligned with consumers’ desire for more experiential retail centers instead of traditional malls. Additionally, Ahrendts spearheaded Apple’s in-store product education program, “Today at Apple,” first launched in 2017; the company continues to add new courses.
Apple’s retail stores are among the most profitable in the world, and under Ahrendts average sales per square foot rose from $4,640 in 2013 to more than $5,600, according to eMarketer. But the retail experience hasn’t avoided criticism, such as a lack of registers, sometimes long checkout lines and very little product customization offered in-store.
The timing of the departure is intriguing, especially considering Ahrendts was recently featured in an article in Vogue Business on Jan. 28. While the feature was mostly forward-looking, emphasizing Apple’s upcoming Washington, D.C. flagship store and the future of physical retail, the article ended on a note asking if Ahrendts “misses fashion.”
“You know, I loved fashion for 40 years,” Ahrendts told Vogue Business. “It is wonderful when you know everything there is to know about the industry because you grew up in it. There are things about the fashion industry that I miss, but I went to Apple because I felt it was a calling to one of the greatest companies on the planet. I felt we could even do a little of what we did at Burberry: uniting people to do incredible things.”
The move comes after a disappointing holiday season for Apple, with iPhone sales coming up well short of last year’s numbers amid difficulties in China. iPhone sales dipped 15%, from $61.1 billion to $52 billion during the holiday season, which is Apple’s Q1 fiscal quarter. China accounted for $13.2 billion of Apple’s overall revenue in the period, compared with nearly $18 billion a year earlier. Fueling the suspicion that the company might not have a positive outlook on near-term iPhone sales, Apple stopped disclosing unit-sales metrics or average selling prices for its devices.
While these issues aren’t necessarily a reflection of Apple’s retail presence, they do indicate that the company’s products are potentially oversaturating the market and that growth is going to need to come from other sources.
As Senior VP of Retail + People, O’Brien will lead the company’s global retail reach, which consists of 35 online stores and 506 retail stores. She will continue to lead the People team, overseeing all People-related functions, including talent development and Apple University, recruiting, employee relations and experience, business partnership, benefits, compensation, and inclusion and diversity.