Apple Retail Chief Angela Ahrendts to Depart in April

Deirdre O'Brien, Tim Cook, and Angela Ahrendts at the Apple Store Credit: Apple
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Only a week after Apple’s Senior VP of Retail, Angela Ahrendts, was profiled in Vogue, it now appears that the five-year head of Apple’s retail operations will be leaving the company in April.

Apple has announced that long-time Apple veteran Deirdre O’Brien will be taking the helm of Apple’s retail arm, expanding her position from Vice President of People (Apple’s name for its HR division) to Senior Vice President of Retail + People, where she will be reporting directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

O’Brien, who originally started her career at IBM, joined Apple in 1988, and became a key part of Tim Cook’s team when he later joined the company as senior VP of worldwide operations, in an era when the iPod was just a gleam in Steve Jobs’ eye. O’Brien was undoubtedly instrumental in helping to turn around Apple’s fortunes, also working alongside Apple’s now-Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams and later being promoted into Cook’s original role of VP of Worldwide Sales and Operations. She served in that position until 2017, when she became Apple’s head of human resources under the new title “Vice President of People.”

At Apple, we believe our soul is our people, and Deirdre understands the qualities and strengths of our team better than anyone. For more than three decades, she has helped keep Apple focused on serving customers and enriching lives. She’s an exceptional leader and she’s been a vital partner to our retail teams around the world since the very beginning. I am thrilled to work alongside Deirdre in her new role, and I know our 70,000 retail employees will be, too.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

O’Brien’s new expanded role, combining both human resources and retail operations, is also an interesting move on Apple’s part, although it arguably makes some sense in light of the size of Apple’s retail employee base. O’Brien will continue to perform her previous duties, which include overseeing all HR-related functions, including talent development and Apple University, recruiting, employee relations and experience, business partnerships, benefits, compensation, and inclusion and diversity. However, she will also now be taking on all of the responsibilities previously handled by Ahrendts.

People come to Apple to do the best work of their lives, and our retail teams show their passion every day, in every interaction, all around the world. It is the opportunity of a lifetime to work with, and learn from, such a talented, diverse and imaginative team. I am looking forward to this journey, and to continuing the important work of the People team in supporting all of Apple’s amazing employees.

Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail + People

Apple’s outgoing SVP of Retail, Angela Ahrendts, is said to be departing for “new personal and professional pursuits.” While it’s unclear exactly what that means, it’s possible Ahrendts may be looking to return to her first love: the fashion industry. In last week’s Vogue interview, Ahrendts shared how she grew up in the fashion industry and that there are things about it that she misses, however at the same time she sounded quite happy at Apple, noting that she came on board because she “felt it was a calling to one of the greatest companies on the planet.”

Ahrendts arrival at Apple in 2014 surprised many in the business world, transitioning from CEO of high-profile fashion company Burberry to head up Apple’s retail operations under Tim Cook. However, it also came at a time when Apple was struggling to reinvent its retail operations, as well as preparing to release the Apple Watch, arguably its first device that had a stake in the fashion industry. This made Ahrendts experience a good fit in helping to position the Apple Watch as more than a simple gadget, and it seems likely that it was Ahrendts’ industry connections that helped the watch quickly gain a high profile in fashion.

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.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Under Ahrendts’ leadership, Apple’s retail stores also saw a transformation into a more boutique-style design and appearance, going so far as to require that third-party manufacturers conform to Apple-mandated packaging designs in order for their products to be carried in Apple Stores, and later bringing in a more community-focused approach, with Today at Apple sessions and a town square style, with some of its larger stores even including atriums.

Apple’s new SVP of retail and people, Deirdre O’Brien, will now be taking on responsibility for 35 online stores and 506 retail stores across five continents, where Apple says she will be focusing on “connection between the customer and the people and processes that serve them.” With a stronger focus in operations and HR than traditional retail, it will be interesting to see how Apple’s retail stores evolve and change under O’Brien’s leadership.

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