News Feature | October 17, 2013

CEO of Burberry Hired To Lead Apple's Retail Division

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By Anna Rose Welch, Editor, Biosimilar Development
Follow Me On Twitter @AnnaRoseWelch

Apple Store

Angela Ahrendts appointed first head of retail to manage both online and in-store sales


After a long search, Apple recently announced it has hired Burberry’s CEO Angela Ahrendts as SVP of its retail sales division. When she begins the position in the spring, Ahrendts will be responsible for overseeing both strategy and operations for Apple’s online and bricks-and-mortar stores. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, says that Ahrendts “shares our values and our focus on innovation, and she places the same strong emphasis as we do on the customer experience.”

Since 2006, Ahrendts has been the CEO of Burberry. Prior to that position, she was EVP of women’s apparel and accessories for Liz Claiborne. Ahrendts is considered something of a “superstar” in Britain because of the work she has done leading Burberry’s turnaround. According to Marshal Cohen, an analyst for the NPD Group, “Ahrendts was able to take what was an iconic but stale brand and transform it back into a coveted, youth-centric fashion brand.” Within her first year at Burberry, she succeeded in raising the company’s revenue from $1.1 billion at the end of 2005 to $5.1 billion. She was the highest paid CEO in Britain because of her strong leadership and technology skills, and she has been compared to other strong, female leaders like Facebook’s CEO Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer.

Ahrendts will remain in the ranks with Sandberg and Mayer when she begins her position at Apple, as she will be the only woman in the top 10 senior executives. The retail division Ahrendts is taking over has been without a leader for roughly a year, since Apple fired the previous SVP of retail, John Browett. It has taken Apple a while to find someone to fill this position, primarily because CEO Cook wanted the new SVP of retail to run both the physical and online stores — a task that is new to this particular position, but one that Cook feels is necessary to best meet consumers’ needs. Until he met Ahrendts, Cook had not found anyone he was confident could lead both areas of sales, which is key to Apple’s omni-channel approach to retail.

When she joins Apple in the spring, Ahrendts will be faced with overseeing the company’s expansion. Despite the fact that Apple’s retail sales have slowed since last year, the company is still planning an expansion of Apple stores. The company projected that, for the fiscal 2013 year, it would spend $600 million on its retail stores, opening 27 new stores. The majority of these stores will be located outside the U.S. In addition, the company plans to complete 23 store relocations by the end of 2013 to better or larger spaces.

There are also rumors of a deal with China Mobile, which would enhance Apple’s presence in the Chinese Market. While China is the second largest market for Apple, Daniel Ladik, professor of marketing in the Stillman School of Business, claims that Apple “does not do spectacularly well in China,” while Ahrendt’s former company Burberry has seen great success. Because of Ahrendt’s success with China and her knowledge of the Chinese customer base, Ahrendts is in a good position to oversee the company’s expanding market. Similarly, because of her background combining technology, fashion, and commerce, Apple hopes she will succeed in the challenging task of continually revitalizing the Apple experience for consumers.