Apple hands keys for retail to HR boss amid flagging iPhone sales

Deirdre O'Brien to take reins from Angela Ahrendts

Apple has entrusted consumer sales as well as the horcrux that contains its "soul" to company veteran Deirdre O'Brien, who adds the retail and online division to a job sheet that already included heading up global HR.

The rejig is due to Angela Ahrendts leaving her post as senior veep of retail in April for "new personal and professional pursuits", the company confirmed last night.

With typical understatement, CEO Tim Cook said: "At Apple, we believe the soul is our people, and Deirdre understands the qualities and strengths of our team better than anyone." He added that she'd been a "vital partner" to its retail teams for three decades and the 70,000 staffers in the division would be "thrilled".

Let's hope she lasts longer than Ahrendts' predecessor John Browett, who ran retail for Apple for just seven months before he left and was replaced in the spring of 2014.

O'Brien, who joined Apple from IBM in 1988, was made veep of HR ("people" in Apple's terminology) in July 2017. Now she'll take on the pressure of overseeing 35 online stores and 506 bricks-and-mortar stores.

Also demonstrating restraint, O'Brien said: "People come to Apple to do the best work of their lives, and our retail teams show their passion every day, in every interaction, all around the world."

By aligning retail and HR under one leader, maybe O'Brien will be able to identify more quickly anyone who doesn't have the right sort of soul, the Apple soul, and can despatch them more efficiently with her HR hat on. Or perhaps not.

As for Ahrendts, Cook thanked her for "inspiring and energising" the retail troops at Apple, and talked up the "transformative force" for the shiny stores and "communities they serve". And no, he obviously made no reference to the challenges the company currently faces with iPhone sales declining in a saturated smartphone market.

Ahrendts said in a prepared remark that her five years at Apple were the "most stimulating, challenging and fulfilling of my career". She added that the retail division has "never been stronger or better positioned to make an even greater contribution for Apple".

We noted the irony too. ®

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