Angela Ahrendts Leaving Apple →

As I foretold during our yearly Connected predictions,1 there has been a major change to Apple’s leadership webpage: Angela Ahrendts is leaving Apple.

Here’s a bit from Apple PR:

“I want to thank Angela for inspiring and energizing our teams over the past five years,” said Tim Cook. “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 last five years have been the most stimulating, challenging and fulfilling of my career. Through the teams’ collective efforts, Retail has never been stronger or better positioned to make an even greater contribution for Apple,” said Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of Retail. “I feel there is no better time to pass the baton to Deirdre, one of Apple’s strongest executives. I look forward to watching how this amazing team, under her leadership, will continue to change the world one person and one community at a time.”

Ahrendts is in the press fairly regularly for her role at Apple. Just a couple of weeks ago, Vogue Business had a feature about her and her work, which included a massive overhaul of Apple’s stores, and overseeing the company’s 70,000 retail employees.

To pick up the mantle, Apple is turning to Deirdre O’Brien, who has been Apple’s SVP of People for some time. Again, Apple PR:

Apple today announced that Deirdre O’Brien is taking on new responsibilities for Apple’s retail and online stores in an expanded role as senior vice president of Retail + People, reporting to CEO Tim Cook. After five transformative years leading the company’s retail and online stores, Angela Ahrendts plans to depart Apple in April for new personal and professional pursuits.

In her expanded role, Deirdre will bring her three decades of Apple experience to lead the company’s global retail reach, focused on the connection between the customer and the people and processes that serve them. 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.

“At Apple, we believe our soul is our people, and Deirdre understands the qualities and strengths of our team better than anyone,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “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.”

From where I sit, this announcement feels unexpected, and I have a lot of questions about how a single person can oversee Apple’s HR and Retail operations.

Sure, Retail is the company’s largest division, but I am concerned Retail is losing a full seat at the table, so to speak. Not everyone agrees, though, and it will be interesting to see how it shakes out.

However surprising this move may seem, part of me is glad to see it. While Apple’s stores are more beautiful than ever, they have become chaotic and overwhelming. Part of that is due to Apple’s growth in the decade since I hung up my Mac Genius t-shirt, but I think a lot of it has to do with the changes Ahrendts and her team put into place. I think Apple has gone too far down the form-over-function route in its Stores. A Genius Bar may have been bulky, but it worked to gather people more effectively than a bunch of uncomfortable backless chairs in the “Genius Grove,” for example.

I’m not saying all of Ahrendts’ changes were bad, or that she ruined Apple Retail. I just think some of the changes made under her leadership seem at odds at what customers want from the Apple Store.

My assumption is that under O’Brien, Apple Retail will stay more or less the same, but I do hope that with new leadership comes a reexamination of what makes Apple Stores great, and what makes them frustrating for so many.

But hey, she has to be better than John Browett, right?

  1. Regrettably, this pick won’t be scored, but I’m pretty sure I should win the whole thing for suggesting something so specific and it coming true so quickly.