Apple’s retail leader, Angela Ahrendts, will leave the company in April, Apple announced this afternoon. Ahrendts joined Apple in spring 2014, coming over from her position as CEO of Burberry to serve as head of retail.
Apple’s current human resources leader, Deirdre O’Brien, will take over the company’s retail and online store operations. O’Brien will continue to lead Apple’s HR team as well. She’s been at the company for three decades.
Interestingly, Apple has already added O’Brien to its executive leadership page as the company’s head of retail — suggesting that Ahrendts may be stepping down immediately. Apple’s press release can be interpreted that way as well.
Ahrendts was a surprise choice when she joined Apple five years ago, having stepped down as the leader of a top fashion company to take the position. At the time, Apple was moving toward the release of the Apple Watch, which it had initially wanted to pitch as something akin to a luxury watch. That approach quickly failed, and the company resumed its broad consumer-focused approach.
During her time at Apple, Ahrendts has also overseen a revamp of the Apple store, bringing trees into the stores and attempting to turn them into “town squares.” Apple says she will depart for “new personal and professional pursuits.”
“The most important hire Tim Cook has ever made!”
Apple already has few women on its executive team, and Ahrendts’ departure removes one of the company’s most valuable leaders — someone with experience running a major company. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff wrote after Ahrendts joined Apple that she was the “most important hire Tim Cook has ever made” and likely next in line to be CEO.
In a recent profile, Ahrendts hinted that she may be interested in turning back to fashion once again. “There are things about the fashion industry that I miss,” Ahrendts told Vogue Business, saying that she grew up in the industry and knew “everything there is to know.”
Update, 9:02 PM ET: Added that Apple has updated its leadership page to add O’Brien as SVP of Retail + People.