Tuesday, February 5, 2019, Apple Newsroom (opens in new tab):
That wasn't the headline, of course. It was the sub. The hed was:
But it was the Angela Ahrendts news that caught fire. There'd been almost no advanced word and so it caught almost everyone by surprise. And, what followed was a fascinating — and somewhat grotesque — glimpse into our collective psyche as the internet stumbled all over itself to rush out its hottest of takes about Ahrendts leaving — many absurd, reflective, projective, and in general little to do with Ahrendts and a lot to do with their own damage and frustrations.
So, what's really going on?
Don't want to read? Watch the video above!
From Burberry to Apple
Angela Ahrendts came to Apple five years ago fresh from a hugely successful stint as CEO of Burberry. Why move from CEO to SVP, some wondered at the time? Isn't that a downgrade in power and prestige? Not when it's at Apple. In many other companies, those roles and responsibilities would be commensurate with CEO or President positions in their own right. Retail is especially enormous, with its own marketing, events, logistics, support, and the lion's share of employees at the company.
And it was growing. I mean, back in the beginning, after the usual pundits dismissed the very idea in their usual doom and gloom dismissive ways — after all, Gateway and Dell had failed, how could Apple possibly succeed?
Steve Jobs found a great leader in Ron Johnson, a great consultant in former board-member Mickey Drexler of the Gap and J. Crew, built a prototype to get all the mistakes out of the way before the public set foot one into an operational store, and then began to systematically roll the stores out across the U.S. and, eventually, around the world. Well, some of the world at least.
It was a genius move. Before, Apple was fighting — and often losing — to get shelf space in big boxes and computer stores that cared not one wit about selling a Mac vs. anything else. Or, often worse, were openly hostile about them.
After, Apple had dedicated staff selling not just the Mac and iPod, but everything else Apple ecosystem as well. Not just the what but the why and how. And, while the sticker price was the same, Apple had to fork over not one sent of the sale to Sears or CompUSA.
The Browett Bungle
When Johnson left in 2011, Apple and Tim Cook experienced a brief bout of terminal miss-hiring in the form of Dixon's John Browett. Where Steve Jobs had famously said if you take care of the top line, the bottom line will take care of itself, Browett seemed very much like a bottom line guy. Turned out, you couldn't run retail like supply chain. You had to run it like design.
Lessons re-learned, had Apple turned to Angela Ahrendts to take its retail efforts to the next level. Someone who knew, in the company's grand tradition, that it's ultimately all about customer experience.
Wait, stop, don't jump on your angry comments just yet. I'll get to your rage points. Promise. Just give me a scalding hot minute first.
The Age of Ahrendts
Previously Apple Stores and Apple Online were functionally two different things. To the extent that, if you ordered something online you couldn't pick it up at your local retail location, much less return it there if anything went wrong.
A bittersweet set of announcements today. Angela, we thank you for all you’ve done to inspire and energize our teams. Deirdre, we can think of no one better to lead our stores and all of Apple’s people in their mission to change lives for the better. pic.twitter.com/PekF8rU9QeA bittersweet set of announcements today. Angela, we thank you for all you’ve done to inspire and energize our teams. Deirdre, we can think of no one better to lead our stores and all of Apple’s people in their mission to change lives for the better. pic.twitter.com/PekF8rU9Qe— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) February 6, 2019February 6, 2019
Reorganizing and reconciling those two, disparate apparatuses into a single, harmonious whole, was only one of the several massive challenges that faced Ahrendts when she started.
Another was handling the Jörmungandr-like lineups that circled very Apple Store, sometimes several times, every time Apple launched a hot new product. Marketing loved them because of the publicity they generated, but they were a bad experience for customers who stood out in the cold, hoping the exact configuration they wanted wouldn't already be sold out by the time it became their turn to buy.
Apple was also getting ready to launch Watch, which in addition to blending fashion and technology in a way far unlike anything the company had done before, would require try-ons and other retail situations beyond what the stores had ever offered.
Jony Ive, Apple's chief creative officer, wanted to re-design Apple Stores and, along with Apple Park, considered it important enough to step away from his day-to-day management and consumer products duties for a non-trivial amount of time just to focus on the project. The first part, in deep collaboration with Ahrendts.
Then, there was the environment and recycling programs with Lisa Jackson, and education, a passion shared with Tim Cook, and the desire to transform Apple's efforts from a few courses into the rich curriculum that's become Today at Apple.
I won't dive into all of them, their successes, their failures, their lessons learned, and their many, many challenges still to be overcome.
But, consider that now, today, you can pre-order almost all hot new products and reserve them for pickup at your local store, little to no lining up needed. Trade in your old device for a discount, take a class on how to use it and, if something is wrong, you can take it back there and exchange it or get a refund.
In addition to new and newly-redesigned stores in many more locations, new retail and support app experiences, expanded outreaches to local developer and creative talents, and the list goes on and on, it's impossible to look at what's been accomplished to date as anything less than significant.
You may have frustrations. Hell, I do. The retail experience, absent clear check-out locations, can still be bewildering for first-time customers. High-volume stores can still be clusters, where you can't even imagine walking in or getting an appointment in a timely fashion. Parts can still not be available in-store or, for new products, at all. Diagnostic and repair skill and talent can feel outsourced to depots, and overly broad and expensive. Not all stores have been updated or have all the new Today at Apple courses, not all regions even have stores, like Ireland and India, and the list goes on and on.
And yeah, that, and a lot more, simply sucks.
Some of those problems predate Ahrendts. Some were exacerbated under her watch as Apple has continued to scale at a rate that can only be properly described by a made up word like redonkulous.
And all of them, and more, now sit clearly, battle Royale-style, in the path of Ahrendts successor, Deirdre O'Brien, to tackle as she ramps up as new SVP of Retail + People.
As a 30-year veteran of Apple, O'Brien helped launch both the online and retail stores back in the day, and worked in operations under Tim Cook before becoming head of Human Resources. As such, she's perhaps uniquely qualified to continue Apple's momentum in customer experience while also shoring up many of the day-to-day frustrations that chip away and dent that experience.
There have been some concerns that this puts too much on O'Brien's plate and that, perhaps, running Apple's single biggest employee pool and being head of people puts her in a position of potential conflict.
All of Apple's SVPs are overloaded, so that's nothing new, but it is something Apple may want to address as it continues to scale. And we might see some of that, including some of the individual portfolios, continue to shift in the future like they have in the past as time passes and talent accrues.
Why Angela Ahrendts left Apple
As for Ahrendts, while I could certainly see her pop up again, even soon, ready and eager to take on another challenge at the crossroads of retail and customer experience, I also wouldn't be surprised if we don't see her pop up anywhere for a good long while.
Some people have claimed that's at odd with Vogue Business running a profile on Ahrendts just a week or so ago, on January 28. That it must be a Scott Forstall, the former SVP of iOS, situation all over again.
Forstall was singularly able to interpret and implement the taste and will of Steve Jobs at an Apple suddenly bereft of Steve Jobs. That was never going to abide. Ahrendts, on the other hand, collaborated beautifully with Ive, Cook, and others.
But, nature abhors a vacuum, and a bad hot take can go viral on twitter before the truth can hit its send button, so an incredible amount of callous, thoughtless, bunk has been written about Apple and Ahrendts over the last couple of days a swell.
No, she didn't get fired because of China or because of XR promos or sales, or because of anything else. No, she didn't quit because she was being passed over for the CEO gig or because of any toxicity in Apple's culture or for any of the other stupefyingly dense fanfic reasons the rest of us have had to read since Tuesday. All of which, let's just point out again, reflect and project only the specific frustrations and damage of the hot taker, never the hot takee.
So, why did Ahrendts leave Apple?
Michael Steeber, writing for 9to5Mac:
As usual, Steeber knows of what he writes.
From Instagram, by the author of the Vogue profile:
From Vogue France:
Often times "spending time with your family" or more aptly or comedically, you decide, "spending time with your money", are just excuses to save face and cover up bad breakups. And sometimes, something happens that makes you realize you have enough money but you'll never have any more time with your family, and you start considering how to change that equation as best and as fast as you can.
Ahrendts' Next Act
I've had the pleasure of chatting briefly with Angela Ahrendts a couple times during the informal aftermaths of Apple events. The first time was the opening of the Union Square Apple Store, which kicked off the new design and Today at Apple program.
She started off telling everyone there that she really didn't like public speaking but was willing to address us there, that day, because of how deeply she believed in the Today at Apple and associated projects.
Her passion for Apple Stores as community hubs was palpable. She cared enough about it to get up on the Apple keynote stage — one of the biggest stages — several times over the years, to help give it the spotlight she felt it deserved.
Seriously, Jony Ive famously doesn't like the stage either and when's the last time you saw him on it? She did that for Apple and Retail.
And now she's done. At least for now.
Who knows? Bob Mansfield came back from his castle to run Titan. Maybe Angela Ahrendts can be wooed back to launch the showrooms… or maybe she'll just get one for the next road trip. Or maybe that's just my nod at the fanfic.
Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.
The simple fact that she's been successful and is ready to move on is implausible only to commentators seduced by our cultural norm that believes a person should specialize and stick with one thing for life. If not, there must be a hidden problem, right? No, perhaps she's what Margaret Lobenstine calls a "Renaissance Soul:" http://www.togetunstuck.com
Never heard of her, and it doesn’t matter if I did. High level people in companies move around all the time. Where I work, there are monthly announcements via email of someone “moving on” after x years at whatever position. I tend to glance at them, think “that’s nice but it has nothing to do with me”, and get on with my day. I have more practical concerns, like the FaceTime bug being fixed. Employees coming and going really does not matter to me.
I'm still confused. Nothing in this article indicates why she left the company. Claiming she left for any other reason than Apple's recent struggles is pure rainbows and unicorns. Apple needs change in certain areas, and Angela's efforts to make Apple stores a "hangout" were ridiculous. People don't want to come in to a store and socialize with strangers. They want to come in, get what they came for, and get out.
The fact that Rene thinks being in charge of Retail at Apple is the same as being a CEO in any other company is all you need to know about Rene's bias in this one. And boy is it rich with words and bias, and light on the actual reason she's leaving apple.
This article reminds me of quite a few papers I wrote in college where I would go off on meaningless tangents just to increase my word count. Typically, I was usually called out for doing this by my professors. Why, in an article meant to explain why this person left Apple, did you find it necessary to go through the entire history of Apple retail? Your conclusion is absolutely hilarious. You write that you believe that Ahrendts is indeed leaving to spend more time with family, a conclusion based on nothing more than conjecture. You don’t actually know this, because you don’t actually work for Apple. But you then chide those who have come to a different conclusion then yours, because they looked at the fact that Apple is making less money, and selling less iPhones, and decided that this series of events was less that coincidental. I feel that is a completely reasonable assumption to make, as opposed to yours, which is based off of nothing more than intuition and blind guesses. That doesnt make if “fan fic,” as you say. It’s called an “educated guess,” and it’s hardly anything to become so offended over. I don’t really know why you felt the need to write this, outside of the fact that you spent an entire day scouring the internet for people saying mean things about Apple, got very angry, and decided to spend a ridiculous amount of time whining about it. Mission accomplished, I guess.
I really couldn't care less about Angela Ahrendts...she sent her daughter to a very exclusive private school in San Jose and from all accounts, her daughter had a magnificent education, graduated and went on to a great college. Did she ever get involved in her daughter's school? Not much. Did she ever make substantial donations despite making over $100M at Apple during her 4 year stint? No. She doesn't "put her money where her mouth is". Yes, she gave some money to the school, but she could have easily financed a building or made a life changing difference in the school. Well, keep your money and be happy with it.
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