Last year Apple hired Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts to run its retail operations.
The Ahrendts hiring was one of the biggest events of 2013 for Apple. Last year Apple had no head of retail operations, so it needed someone.
Apple’s retail operation is still good, but it’s getting ragged.
From all reports, it seems like hiring Ahrendts was better than hiring someone, it seems like Apple hit a home run, bringing in someone that’s whip smart, but emotionally intelligent enough to thrive in the sometimes difficult Apple corporate culture.
Jeff Chu has written the biggest profile yet on Ahrendts and Apple’s retail future for Fast Company. Chu started writing his story when she was CEO of Burberry, so he got some time with her. When she went to Apple, she stopped talking.
We’ve read it, and here are the big takeaways:
People love Ahrendts. Chu calls her an angel: “Ahrendts is no Miranda Priestly–and it’s only a little hyperbolic to say that the angel wears Burberry.” One of her school teachers said, “Angie was definitely a front-row-of-the-class kind of student. You were glad to see her coming through the door; when class started, you knew she was going to be ready.” There’s more gushing commentary about her in there, but this gives you a sense of it.
She’s not a geek, but she has a vision. Here’s SAP executive Vishal Sikka: “She is not a geek. She is not technical … But she has a vision for things she wants to see, and she has a profound understanding of what technology can do for people.”
At Burberry, she linked online behaviour to offline behaviour. Employees in Burberry stores have iPad minis with information on users online shopping habits at Burberry, as well as what they like in stores. You can even tell them if you don’t like to be bothered while shopping in the store through your Burberry profile. Expect the Apple store experience to change.
She’s going to be in charge of Apple.com’s store. Apple’s online and offline operations were siloed. Now they’ll work together under Ahrendts.
Despite her fashion background, don’t expect her to work on an iWatch, or other wearable tech. An “insider with knowledge of Apple’s executive search” tells Chu, “She’s there to run a retail store, and that’s really hard.”
She will be key in expanding Apple’s stores in China. This is the most interesting part of the profile:
Expect a strong, sensible push to open new stores. While Apple is present only in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Chengdu, China has 15 cities with populations of more than 5 million. Burberry, which now has 71 stores on the mainland, is in 13 of them. (It also has seven stores in Brazil and eight in India; Apple has none in either.) Burberry generates about 14% of its global revenue in China, but that number is misleadingly low. First, if you see the stores as brand ambassadors, this isn’t primarily about sales in the current fiscal year; it’s about investing in brand awareness and prestige over the next 10 or 15. Second, Chinese shoppers don’t just buy within China. Ahrendts recognised early that the nearly 100 million Chinese tourists who travel abroad each year are boosting sales in all 25 of Burberry’s flagship stores, and Chinese shoppers in Burberry stores outside China spend, on average, 10 times what they spend back home.
Our emphasis added at the end. It also says that Ahrendts had people that spoke Mandarin at all Burberry stores to accommodate Chinese shoppers. She also said at an investor meeting, “Chinese New Year has the ability to be every bit as big as Christmas.”
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