Examining Angela Ahrendts' five-year tenure as head of Apple Retail

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 7
Angela Ahrendts came to the Apple Stores with a history in fashion retail, and brought a track record of revitalizing failing firms. AppleInsider details how Tim Cook came to hire her and what the state of Apple Retail was when she took over.

Tim Cook with Angela Ahrendts
Tim Cook with Angela Ahrendts


When Angela Ahrendts steps down from Apple as Senior Vice President of Retail in April 2019, she will have completed five years at the helm of all of the company's stores -- both physical and online. While Apple does also earn money from services and other business activities, the alterations that she's made in the stores are central to the rise of the company into being the world's most profitable firm.

These Apple Stores have been lauded as retail successes since their very beginnings, and externally they had appeared to be doing well even before Ahrendts joined. Yet in practice, the years before her arrival were marked with problems. Her official predecessor only lasted nine months in the job before being replaced by Cook who acted as a caretaker head of retail alongside his duties as CEO.

One of Cook's tasks in the job was to find a permanent head of retail -- and it was not a quick search. From when ex-Dixons retail boss John Browett was made an ex-Apple retail one too, the company took a year to replace him. He left in October 2012 and on Oct. 14, 2013, Apple announced that Angela Ahrendts had been appointed. She would take up her position in the spring of the following year.

"I am thrilled that Angela will be joining our team," said Cook at the time. "She shares our values and our focus on innovation, and she places the same strong emphasis we do on the customer experience."

For her part, she said that she "admired the innovation and impact Apple products and services have on people's lives and hope in some small way I can help contribute to the company's continued success and leadership in changing the world."

The Apple Store's long road

Before Browett there had been Ron Johnson, hired by Steve Jobs in 2000 specifically for Apple's move into retail. Johnson was therefore responsible, with his team and Jobs, for the gigantic initial success of the Apple Stores.

Later, after leaving to unsuccessfully transform JC Penney, he spoke to CNBC in 2015 about Ahrendts having taken over.

"I'm Angela's biggest fan," he said. "I knew her before she came to Apple. I had the chance to meet her in London. The teams love her at Apple. They love her leadership."

Ahrendts' own road

Prior to Apple, Angela Ahrendts was best known for being the CEO of Burberry. This is a London-based luxury fashion business that was founded in 1856 and she took charge of it in 2006.

Ahrendts at Cannes
Ahrendts at Cannes


The firm was then exactly 150 years old but it was also in trouble. It was in a situation that was remarkably similar to how Apple was before Steve Jobs returned.

Both companies were long-standing pioneers of their industry and yet were in severe decline. Both companies saw that their name was carrying less and less weight and as both were selling high-price items, that was significant.

You know that when Jobs famously returned to Apple, he ditched the firm's confusing mix of products and simplified it. In the late '90s, he focused Apple on just four products: when Angela Ahrendts joined Burberry, she decimated the company's line.

Then while purposely limiting what Burberry sold, she also bought back licenses that the company had previously sold for fragrances and beauty products. It was the fashion equivalent of Apple shutting down the Mac clones.

In 2010, Wall Street Journal writer Nancy Hass described her as "transforming [the then] 154-year-old Burberry into a technologically savvy international powerhouse."

By the time she left for Apple, Ahrendts reported increased the value of Burberry's shares three times over to approximately $9 billion.

Later, talking to Fortune she credited Apple not so much for its business lessons but specifically for its Macs and iOS. "In interviews, I would say that we turned the company around because of Apple, because of all that their technology enabled us to do all over the world."




Inevitable

Ahrendts was a highly successful CEO, and she knew the value of what Apple makes. That might have made her an obvious choice in the minds of headhunting firm, but she says that Tim Cook told her he had more reasons to hire her.

"The very first time we chatted," she said, "it was an honor to meet him, but my mission was to talk him out of me. So I said don't believe everything you read: I am not a techie. Honestly, ask my daughter, I am absolutely not. And he was so calm. He just shook his head and said, 'I think we have 10,000 of those, I think we're covered there.'"

"At one point [Tim] just looked at me and said, 'You know you're supposed to be here.' And I said, how do you know that?"

"Because I watched your TED talk," said Cook. "And trust me, you're supposed to be here."



New broom

There's a difference between launching something and keeping it going. When you're not the person who launched it, you can have a temptation to make radical changes to stamp your mark and that's what Browett had done. Ahrendts seemed happier to make her changes more subtly and less visibly.

She appeared to predominantly build up Apple's internal systems for running and developing retail before she moved to launch the Today at Apple idea of turning stores into meeting places. In 2015 she did tell the Bailiwick Express that: "We are starting to test some new concepts in some of the new stores. I haven't spoken publicly at all about it because these are pilots and these are tests.

"We're just piloting some things, and I think the overarching thing is I think you can expect the stores to become hopefully a little calmer, but yet a little more dynamic, and maybe slightly more aligned to the same feeling you get when you go into our products. Because maybe the store is really just a giant product."

Sales

Together the entire retail operation, both physical and online stores, is really more of a machine for selling high volumes of products. When Ahrendts joined, Apple was earning $37.04 billion net income annually from all its revenue sources, according to Statista.com. The latest available figures say that for 2018, the total net income was $59.53 billion.

It's hard to separate out retail from all of Apple's revenues but you can count the stores. In 2013, there were 416 Apple Stores around the world and by the end of 2018 there were 506.

You don't get to those volumes and this increase by sticking to your fan base. Apple Retail has changed dramatically over Ahrendts's reign and if she's done it with less of an obvious sledgehammer than others, she's still done it.

Technology to sell technology

Shortly before announcing her departure, Ahrendts elaborated on this idea of making change and told Vogue Business about how the aim is to both utilize technology and create something more than a supermarket for Apple gear.

"We don't talk a lot about it but there are thousands of beacons behind those walls," she said. The beacons are what enable the Store to tell you to wait at the iPad table when you're picking up an order. "As we renovate every store we update all of the technology. We don't want to be gimmicky, but stores need to become living, breathing spaces, not just two-dimensional boxes."

Vogue Business also asked her about the difference between being CEO of Burberry and head of retail at Apple. "I'm only one person," she replied. "I just set the vision and I am the connector - I am the enabler if you will. The common denominator for me is always the people. I love the fact seven of my directors at Burberry have gone on to be CEOs. You put together an amazing group of people, you all share the same vision and mission and purpose of something you want to achieve together."

Leaving

Apple doesn't tend to look back. Rather than announcing that Ahrendts is leaving, the company instead chose to reveal that Deirdre O'Brien is taking over retail and only then explained why. In the closing words of its press release, though, it did have Tim Cook pay tribute to O'Brien's predecessor.

"I want to thank Angela for inspiring and energizing our teams over the past five years," he said. "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."

And then Ahrendts got to comment. "The last five years have been the most stimulating, challenging and fulfilling of my career," she said. "Through the teams' collective efforts, Retail has never been stronger or better positioned to make an even greater contribution for Apple. I feel there is no better time to pass the baton to Deirdre, one of Apple's strongest executives.

Deirdre O'Brien takes over retail from Ahrendts
Deirdre O'Brien takes over retail from Ahrendts


While Ahrendts will remain as senior vice president, retail, until April, O'Brien has already taken on a title combining her previous and new roles. Effective immediately, she is Apple's senior Vice President, Retail + People.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 43
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,153member
    Apple retail is yet another example of the whole world telling Apple it would fail miserably, much like the whole world told Apple they would surely fail in the smartphone arena. Thankfully for us Apple doesn’t listen to its critics. As for the curmudgeons and naysayers that populate Apple centric tech blogs, well, nobody listens to them, least of all Apple.
    AppleExposedivanhStrangeDays1983lolliverjony0
  • Reply 2 of 43
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,140unconfirmed, member

    "Retail + People"


    Is this a new title? Never noticed it before. Sounds really good.

  • Reply 3 of 43
    Nice article.  Quite informative.  I'm impressed at how quickly it was pulled together.

    Did anyone else think that second picture was a scene from Sex and the City?  On a closer look, she doesn't look like Sarah Jessica Parker, but the first-glance resemblance is there.
  • Reply 4 of 43
    ivanhivanh Posts: 360member
    Millions of Apple fans share the same values as Apple CEO so sharing the same values didn’t make the hire a right choice. 
    In fact, most of my friends found visiting Apple Stores boring, frustrating, and occasionally insulting. The staff turn you away, put you in a queue for next day while you are present helplessly with a broken iPhone on hand. You look for good and variety of accessory products but you can find only few or even none of the alternatives except the one hard-selling. You can’t test nor compare the apps you want to buy. You don’t see a real life iPhone necessarily connecting accessories and the ugly USB-C dongles bridging between the MacBook Pro and an iPhone.

    You know that an app will harvest your health data immediately after installation but you cannot complain about it without first of all install it and sacrifice your privacy, and the Apple store’s staff are not helpful. You cannot find and compare apps, e.g. Microsoft Word vs Scrivener, or Excel vs Numbers. The same staff could give you smiley faces when you buy an iPhone but two days later you change your mind and go back, the staffer’s face suddenly gets long enough to confuse you and even face recognition. The Apple Store’s are not techies, perhaps it’s because Ahrendts herself is not. 
    Apple customers want more, and much more today, but Apple Store and Apple are still staying in the old thinking more than 5 years ago. That’s why Apple is fading, instead of shimmering.
  • Reply 5 of 43
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,750member
    Curmudgeon? Hey, I resemble that remark!
    Definitely subtle work there Ahrendts! Not bad for $65 mill.

    Anyhoo, what else can I grizzle about? Oh, yes.
    Who really thinks a corporate weenie will do a good job in retail?
    Also, George Orwell would have just loved that job title.
    Thrashman
  • Reply 6 of 43
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,453member
    lkrupp said:
    Apple retail is yet another example of the whole world telling Apple it would fail miserably, much like the whole world told Apple they would surely fail in the smartphone arena. Thankfully for us Apple doesn’t listen to its critics. As for the curmudgeons and naysayers that populate Apple centric tech blogs, well, nobody listens to them, least of all Apple.
    Yep.  I've posted these (and others) before, but here's a few brilliant quotes:
    5/21/2001  Cliff Edwards  
    Commentary: Sorry, Steve: Here's Why Apple Stores Won't Work 
    “New retail outlets aren't going to fix Apple's sales “
     
    12/23/2006 Bill Ray (Mobile)
    “Why the Apple phone will fail, and fail badly”
    It's the Pippin all over again”
     
    1/14/2007 Matthew Lynn
    Apple iPhone Will Fail in a Late, Defensive Move
    “…Don't let that fool you into thinking that it matters. The big competitors in the mobile-phone industry such as Nokia Oyjand Motorola Inc.won't be whispering nervously into their clamshells over a new threat to their business…
    The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. In terms of its impact on the industry, the iPhone is less relevant”
     
    3/28/2007 John Dvorak
    Apple should pull the plug in the iPhone
    Commentary:  Company risks its reputation in competitive business
    … Now compare that effort and overlay the mobile handset business. This is not an emerging business. In fact it's gone so far that it's in the process of consolidation with probably two players dominating everything, Nokia Corp…and Motorola Inc.” 

     And that wouldn't even be so bad if they ever admitted they were wrong, but they almost never do.  

    StrangeDaysrandominternetperson1983lolliver
  • Reply 7 of 43
    ivanh said:
    Millions of Apple fans share the same values as Apple CEO so sharing the same values didn’t make the hire a right choice. 
    In fact, most of my friends found visiting Apple Stores boring, frustrating, and occasionally insulting. The staff turn you away, put you in a queue for next day while you are present helplessly with a broken iPhone on hand. You look for good and variety of accessory products but you can find only few or even none of the alternatives except the one hard-selling. You can’t test nor compare the apps you want to buy. You don’t see a real life iPhone necessarily connecting accessories and the ugly USB-C dongles bridging between the MacBook Pro and an iPhone.

    You know that an app will harvest your health data immediately after installation but you cannot complain about it without first of all install it and sacrifice your privacy, and the Apple store’s staff are not helpful. You cannot find and compare apps, e.g. Microsoft Word vs Scrivener, or Excel vs Numbers. The same staff could give you smiley faces when you buy an iPhone but two days later you change your mind and go back, the staffer’s face suddenly gets long enough to confuse you and even face recognition. The Apple Store’s are not techies, perhaps it’s because Ahrendts herself is not. 
    Apple customers want more, and much more today, but Apple Store and Apple are still staying in the old thinking more than 5 years ago. That’s why Apple is fading, instead of shimmering.
    Is this one of those million monkeys at a typewriter I’ve heard so much about?
    StrangeDaysmuthuk_vanalingamradarthekatlolliverjony0
  • Reply 8 of 43
    ivanh said:
    Millions of Apple fans share the same values as Apple CEO so sharing the same values didn’t make the hire a right choice. 
    In fact, most of my friends found visiting Apple Stores boring, frustrating, and occasionally insulting. The staff turn you away, put you in a queue for next day while you are present helplessly with a broken iPhone on hand. You look for good and variety of accessory products but you can find only few or even none of the alternatives except the one hard-selling. You can’t test nor compare the apps you want to buy. You don’t see a real life iPhone necessarily connecting accessories and the ugly USB-C dongles bridging between the MacBook Pro and an iPhone.

    You know that an app will harvest your health data immediately after installation but you cannot complain about it without first of all install it and sacrifice your privacy, and the Apple store’s staff are not helpful. You cannot find and compare apps, e.g. Microsoft Word vs Scrivener, or Excel vs Numbers. The same staff could give you smiley faces when you buy an iPhone but two days later you change your mind and go back, the staffer’s face suddenly gets long enough to confuse you and even face recognition. The Apple Store’s are not techies, perhaps it’s because Ahrendts herself is not. 
    Apple customers want more, and much more today, but Apple Store and Apple are still staying in the old thinking more than 5 years ago. That’s why Apple is fading, instead of shimmering.
    What the fuck are you even talking about? Whining about not being about the try App Store apps? Apps can’t “harvest” your health data immediately, you have to grant them permission to use HealthKit. And there is no “dongle” between a MBP and an iPhone, you simple use a normal cable. Apple is fading? Biggest company again today by valuation, oops.

    Looks like we have our new russian trollbot. Extremely low-value posts. 
    radarthekatrandominternetpersonfastasleeplolliverjony0
  • Reply 9 of 43

    entropys said:
    Curmudgeon? Hey, I resemble that remark!
    Definitely subtle work there Ahrendts! Not bad for $65 mill.

    Anyhoo, what else can I grizzle about? Oh, yes.
    Who really thinks a corporate weenie will do a good job in retail?
    Also, George Orwell would have just loved that job title.
    The “corporate weenie” has been with Apple for 30 of its 42 years. They don’t suffer fools gladly at Apple. 
    radarthekatfastasleep1983lolliverjony0
  • Reply 10 of 43
    lkrupp said:
    Apple retail is yet another example of the whole world telling Apple it would fail miserably, much like the whole world told Apple they would surely fail in the smartphone arena. Thankfully for us Apple doesn’t listen to its critics. As for the curmudgeons and naysayers that populate Apple centric tech blogs, well, nobody listens to them, least of all Apple.
    That's pretty much par for the course for any product or service Apple introduces. All the talking heads predicting miserable failure, almost without exception. The Apple Watch was mocked and laughed at, yet soon became the biggest selling watch in the world, with evolutionary excellence that has brought us to Watch Series 4 with LTE and a greater focus on health - that which Tim Cook see as Apple's ultimate legacy. Health care in most parts of this country is abysmal and getting worse - participants are doing a complete money grab, and the patients needs are secondary to the big (crooked) pharma, insurance, hospitals, doctors and nurses. I'm 73, so I've been witness to this devolution, coming from an era when doctors made house calls and wait times for appointments were minimal. Now everything seems to be at the convenience of the providor as opposed to the needs of the patient. At my age it's difficult to watch this slide, more for the generations coming up than for my own needs. Of course there could be a light at the end of the tunnel, but there'd have to be a sea change from our horrifically greedy, self centered government that is the cheif facilitator .
    leeeh2
  • Reply 11 of 43
    Can't really comment about the Apple Stores. There isn't one near me so I almost never get into one. However Apple's online stores are much worse than they were.

    The Hardware store is difficult to navigate to get the info you want. It pushes you to order, but makes it tough to find hard data on what you're ordering. Oh I can get infinite scrolling windows with pretty pictures and marketing speak, but hard numbers are hard to find.

    The AppStore and MacAppStore are worse. A few years ago if I wanted to find a particular type of program, say a Game I'd go to Games and there would be a menu I could select RPG, or Puzzle, or whatever and get a list of those. Now if this menu is there I sure as heck can't find it. I just have to hunt through lists of programs and hop the description tells me enough to go on. Or I can try to search for Text Editor or Risk-like game and hope that it can figure it out. It usually doesn't.

    Worse yet if I know what I want to buy, I can search by name. I guarantee the program I just asked for by name will not be the first hit. Usually there are several totally wrong ones that are paid placements that show up first, then there are a few obviously wrong ones, before I find the one I am actually searching for.

    In these areas I can't rate Ms. Ahrendts tenure very highly.
    edited February 6 muthuk_vanalingamStrangeDays
  • Reply 12 of 43
    65026502 Posts: 255member
    Retail + People

    Or, in Tim's words:

    Refrigerator + Toaster

    I see retail strike three in the not too distant future.
    claire1
  • Reply 13 of 43
    Well done. A fair and complementary article.

    Thank you.

    I always liked her. :)
    randominternetperson
  • Reply 14 of 43
    DAalseth said:

    The AppStore and MacAppStore are worse. A few years ago if I wanted to find a particular type of program, say a Game I'd go to Games and there would be a menu I could select RPG, or Puzzle, or whatever and get a list of those. Now if this menu is there I sure as heck can't find it. I just have to hunt through lists of programs and hop the description tells me enough to go on. Or I can try to search for Text Editor or Risk-like game and hope that it can figure it out. It usually doesn't.

    Worse yet if I know what I want to buy, I can search by name. I guarantee the program I just asked for by name will not be the first hit. Usually there are several totally wrong ones that are paid placements that show up first, then there are a few obviously wrong ones, before I find the one I am actually searching for.

    In these areas I can't rate Ms. Ahrendts tenure very highly.
    She doesn’t and never managed the App Stores as far as I know. Remember Cue and Schiller taking about them?

    Oh, and it’s still really, really easy to find those 
    sub-categories of games. Steps:

    1) tap Games on bottom nav
    2) swipe down to categories 


    edited February 7 fastasleep
  • Reply 15 of 43
    6502 said:
    Retail + People

    Or, in Tim's words:

    Refrigerator + Toaster

    I see retail strike three in the not too distant future.
    Dude, she's been with Apple for over 20 years.  I think they know what she can do and what she can't do.  Oh right, she one of those "diversity hires" that you were whining about, so of course she's worthless.
    claire1
  • Reply 16 of 43
    jdwjdw Posts: 751member
    The devil is in the details, and unfortunately this article doesn't dive into the details of what Angela Ahrendts actually did.  The article speaks in more general terms about things many of us already knew.  At least I did.  Indeed, I had watched that TED talk prior to even seeing this article.  I watched it because I wanted to know more about Angela Ahrendts in order to perhaps figure out what she did (in detailed terms) at Apple for all that compensation she received.  

    Of course she had a thrill at Apple.  Of course Tim Cook praised her (he hired her, after all).  And sure Apple Stores increased, as they likely would have under another Apple retail executive, and revenues increased as a result.  But what are the specific changes she made in Apple Stores, and do customers welcome those changes?  Comments I read in the forums indicate the changes she made were not desirable, but is that the general consensus of most people who visit Apple Stores?  These are the things that the tech media (including AppleInsider) need to sleuth out.  Such would make a better article because it would be much more informative.
    Latkomacplusplus1983
  • Reply 17 of 43
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 2,968member
    DAalseth said:
    Can't really comment about the Apple Stores. There isn't one near me so I almost never get into one. However Apple's online stores are much worse than they were.

    The Hardware store is difficult to navigate to get the info you want. It pushes you to order, but makes it tough to find hard data on what you're ordering. Oh I can get infinite scrolling windows with pretty pictures and marketing speak, but hard numbers are hard to find.

    The AppStore and MacAppStore are worse. A few years ago if I wanted to find a particular type of program, say a Game I'd go to Games and there would be a menu I could select RPG, or Puzzle, or whatever and get a list of those. Now if this menu is there I sure as heck can't find it. I just have to hunt through lists of programs and hop the description tells me enough to go on. Or I can try to search for Text Editor or Risk-like game and hope that it can figure it out. It usually doesn't.

    Worse yet if I know what I want to buy, I can search by name. I guarantee the program I just asked for by name will not be the first hit. Usually there are several totally wrong ones that are paid placements that show up first, then there are a few obviously wrong ones, before I find the one I am actually searching for.

    In these areas I can't rate Ms. Ahrendts tenure very highly.
    She had nothing to do with the app stores, those were Cue and then Federighi. 
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 18 of 43
    macguimacgui Posts: 1,303member
    jdw said:
    Of course she had a thrill at Apple.  Of course Tim Cook praised her (he hired her, after all).  And sure Apple Stores increased, as they likely would have under another Apple retail executive..
    Like the guy from Penny's that she replaced? Not very likely. She really changed the look of Apple Retail Stores. (As mentioned, she can't be blamed the App Stores on her.)

    But maybe as follow up article could give is the nuts and bolts of what actual changes she made. I did enjoy seeing her on stage.

  • Reply 19 of 43
    In that first picture which one is Tim Cook and which Angela? There is no indication in the caption.

    :-p
  • Reply 20 of 43
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,750member
    6502 said:
    Retail + People

    Or, in Tim's words:

    Refrigerator + Toaster

    I see retail strike three in the not too distant future.
    Dude, she's been with Apple for over 20 years.  I think they know what she can do and what she can't do.  Oh right, she one of those "diversity hires" that you were whining about, so of course she's worthless.
    So?O’Brien was doing corporate HR. Even as it seems she was good at that, it says nothing about how she will do running retail. Sorry, running both! Think about that.
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