Apple (AAPL) again reached beyond the confines of the IT industry to find a key executive, this time nabbing Angela Ahrendts from U.K.-based fashion house Burberry to run its retail store operation, a position left vacant since October 2012.
For image-conscious Apple, hiring a top executive who ostensibly doesn't think like a traditional technology retailer to run its highly visible store and online business—does that place Ahrendts in line to become the company's next big star?
Since showing the exit door a year ago to former retail senior vice president John Browett, Apple has run its 400-store retail and online business on auto-pilot, which is all well and good, but the company has lacked a clear idea of where next to take its outlet business. With Apple chief Tim Cook intent on driving more mobile sales through the vendor’s stores, can Ahrendts, who is credited with more than doubling Burberry’s sales in the last seven years and is a strong proponent of brand-building through the Web and social networks, take the business to a new level?
Ahrendts leaves Burberry for what Apple termed a “newly created position as a senior vice president and member of our executive team.” The vendor is going to have to wait a while for Ahrendts to take over handling the strategic direction, expansion and operation of its retail and online stores—she won’t actually take the reins until sometime in the spring next year, reporting directly to Cook.
Are the odds in Ahrendts’ favor not only to sustain Apple’s retail operation but also to stretch its boundaries? A couple of factors tilt the scale in her direction with one caveat:
- Ahrendts is walking into a wildly successful business and marketing operation with Apple retail. When the vendor does bring to market its long-rumored iWatch, her background in pushing into new markets, marketing luxury items and a heightened focus on the customer experience, will be a major plus.
- Ahrendts brings a cultivated sense of merging technology and fashion, credited with leveraging social media to add marketing heft to Burberry. Expect her to bring more of that approach to Apple’s store marketing and branding, not only with the iWatch but also the iPhone and iPad.
- One thing that might make a difference to her after a while is the fashion industry is said to be as all-consuming as IT, which isn't to say once a fashionista always one, but it will be interesting to see if after a while Ahrendts misses the excitement endemic to the luxury goods business.
Still, with what Ahrendts brings to Apple, Cook said she “shares our values and our focus on innovation, and she places the same strong emphasis as we do on the customer experience.”
For her part, Ahrendts said she is looking forward to “working with the global teams to further enrich the consumer experience on- and offline.”
Ahrendts is not Apple’s first dip into the fashion world to land a new executive. In July, the vendor hired Paul Deneve, the former Yves Saint Laurent chief executive and a past sales and marketing manager in Apple’s European operation, to work on special projects. And, in August, Apple reached reaching into clothing manufacturer titan Levi Strauss for Enrique Atienza to handle its retail business in the U.S. west coast, generally regarded as one of the vendor’s key retail slots.