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Apple’s Angela Ahrendts Passes Retail Baton To HR Head Deirdre O’Brien

Ahrendts will leave in April after five years running Apple Stores.

Angela Ahrendts, who left her CEO spot at Burberry five years ago to stabilize Apple’s rudderless retail business, has handed the retail reins to the company’s human resources chief Deirdre O’Brien.

Ahrendts will leave the company in April “for new personal and professional pursuits,” Apple said.

The fashion industry veteran came on board in 2013 to help fill a vacuum left by Ron Johnson, the former Target merchant who is credited with creating the wildly successful Apple Store format. He left for an ill-fated stab at resuscitating JCPenney, and was succeeded by a former Dixons CEO who lasted six months on the job.

Apple CEO Tim Cook described Ahrendts as “a positive, transformative force,” and during the first four of her five years on the job (2014-2017) sales at Apple’s U.S. showrooms and website rose 11.5 percent, to $13.8 billion, according to the TWICE Top 100 CE Retailers Reports, where it continues to hold the No. 4 spot behind Best Buy, Amazon and Walmart.

More recently, Ahrendts updated the store design with warmer natural materials and tones, and added educational classes to further root the showrooms to their local communities.

See: Apple Embraces ‘Town Square’ Store Model

Her successor, O’Brien, is a 30-year veteran of Apple, and retains her HR duties in addition to her new retail responsibilities. In the newly created role of senior VP retail + people, she will oversee the company’s 506 brick-and-mortar stores and 35 e-commerce sites worldwide.

Cook described O’Brien as an exceptional leader and a vital partner to Apple’s retail teams worldwide. “Deirdre understands the qualities and strengths of our team better than anyone,” he said, and “has helped keep Apple focused on serving customers and enriching lives.”

For her part, Ahrendts said she leaves a retail operation that “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.”