October 15, 2013 (c) 2013, Bloomberg News.
SAN FRANCISCO — Apple has hired Burberry Group Chief Executive Officer Angela Ahrendts as head of retail operations, ending a yearlong search and adding the first woman to its executive team.
Ahrendts, 53, will oversee Apple's more than 400 retail outlets and its online store, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company said Tuesday in a statement. She will join Apple in the spring of 2014, reporting to CEO Tim Cook.
Apple has been operating without a retail chief since last October, when former head John Browett was ousted by Cook as part of a broader management shakeup. The stores, started by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in 2001, earn more than high-end retail outlets like Tiffany & Co. and give the company a way to promote and teach customers about its products, an advantage over Google, Samsung Electronics and Microsoft.
"Apple stores are a self-funding marketing operation," said Benedict Evans, an analyst with Enders Analysis in London. "She's about delivering a great experience, with the right economics."
Ahrendts has previously worked as executive vice president at Liz Claiborne and president of Donna Karan International. She is becoming the 10th member of Apple's executive team and the first woman, joining the likes of design guru Jonathan Ive and marketing head Phil Schiller.
"She shares our values and our focus on innovation, and she places the same strong emphasis as we do on the customer experience," Cook said in the statement.
Burberry said Christopher Bailey, who has been chief creative officer at the largest British luxury-goods producer for the past six years, will replace Ahrendts as CEO.
Ahrendts takes the helm as Apple is opening more stores outside the United States to drive growth, including in China. Apple generated $4.1 billion in revenue from its retail stores in the third quarter, with 84 million shoppers visiting its outlets, the company said in July. Its first head of retail was Ron Johnson, who left in 2011 to become CEO of JC Penney Co., a job he was later fired from after disappointing sales.
Ahrendts's experience overseeing a luxury brand is especially important for Apple, Evans said. By contrast, Browett came from a retail background more focused on cost savings that didn't mesh with Apple, he said. Cook had been overseeing the company's stores in the absence of a full-time executive.
Ahrendts has long championed the integration of technology and fashion. Burberry streamed a fashion show globally live last month using Apple's new iPhone 5s. She helped push Burberry to team up with Twitter Inc. to stay on the cusp of technology by posting backstage photos of a runway show on the social- networking service.
"You're going to see relationships with technology across anything that's brand," Ahrendts told Bloomberg Television last month. "I don't care if that's in home or what you wear. I just think it's a new fact of life."
As technological differences between smartphones become less apparent to most customers, Apple's marketing and retail experience gives it an advantage over competitors, said Richard Windsor, an independent analyst with Radio Free Mobile.
"This it yet another move to strengthen the brand and retail experience," he said. "The technological edge seems to be stabilizing and now Apple looks to be trying to differentiate through its brand and the experience the consumer enjoys when he or she walks through the door."
This isn't Apple's first hire this year of a CEO of a luxury clothing company. In July, Apple hired Paul Deneve, the former CEO of luxury fashion house Yves St Laurent Group, to work on special projects for Cook.
The addition of fashion-house expertise comes as Apple is developing a wrist-watch-like computing device, people familiar with the work have said.
Ewing reported from Stockholm.