Apple yesterday surprised watchers by announcing that its retail boss Angela Ahrendts was set to depart the Cupertino company in April, to be replaced by Deirdre O’Brien.

Having spent five years leading Apple’s retail and online stores, Angela will be leaving the iPhone maker for new “personal and professional pursuits,” Apple’s press release has it.

A source has now claimed that the 58-year-old executive is not really interested in taking the reins of another company as some have suspected.

Michael Steeber, 9to5Mac:

According to sources familiar with the matter, Ahrendts indicated in a team message that she may plan to step back from day-to-day management and lead a quieter life rather than take the reins of another company following her departure.

Tim Cook called the announcement “bittersweet” on Twitter.

Steeber continues:

Industry analysts have attempted to correlate Apple’s disappointing earnings revision with Ahrendts’ exit. Others have suggested that the executive’s fashion background and preference for experiential retail are to blame for increased product pricing and long waits for customer service. These explanations fail to capture the full picture.

And this, indicating her exit was planned.

Two days after the launch of the iPhone XR, an unconfirmed rumor suggested that Angela Ahrendts could leave Apple, and that an announcement could be made as soon as the end of 2018.

The report claimed that internal talent from Australia was being considered as a replacement. Assuming the rumor has more weight than exceptionally good timing, it indicates that Ahrendts’ departure was not an overnight decision.

Be sure to read his insightful article over at 9to5Mac.

Ahrendts joined Apple in October 2012 from Burberry, where she served as chief executive. She spoke at the Global Leadership Summit last August about leaving the fashion retailer:

Burberry was 150 years old when I started. That made me realize it was almost like a relay race. Imagine how many batons have been handed off along the way to the different tenures of teams that have been there. So what was our purpose while we were there?

Our job was to do everything to ensure its relevance for the next 150 years. What do we need to clean up that’s gotten cluttered and disparate? What do we need to pull in and purify, and what do we need to do to keep pace and get ahead, so that when we hand that baton off to the next generation of leaders, it’ll be as great as we could make it during that time?

Tim Cook & Co. wanted her to lead Apple Retail after the previous retail head John Browett (who proved unfit for that role) so badly that Apple compensated her for unvested Burberry stock she lost by leaving the luxury retailer.

As she was leaving unvested stock awards worth approximately $37 million (as well as cash and perquisites that exceeded $5 million a year), Apple instantly paid $37 million to compensate her for the value of the Burberry stock.

The Cupertino firm also awarded Ahrendts a new-hire stock allocation valued at $33 million (40 percent of which was performance based, with the rest vesting over three years).

She also pocketed a $500,000 cash bonus and relocation expenses totaling $457,615, according to Recode at the time.

The Cupertino technology giant said its 2014 compensation package was designed to make Ahrendts whole financially — and successfully recruit an executive who, during her tenure at Burberry, led the company through a turnaround in which its market capitalization more than doubled.

At Apple, she quickly became the company’s highest-paid executive.

Ahrendts posing for a selfie with Apple Store customers in June 2014.

Her total compensation was $26.5 million in 2018, according to Apple’s proxy statement from January 8, 2019. By comparison, Cook made $15.7 million in total compensation that year.

In a January 2019 interview with Vogue Business, Ahrendts said that even though she grew up in the fashion industry she was attracted to Apple by the work it was doing at the time.

You know, I loved fashion for 40 years. It is wonderful when you know everything there is to know about the industry because you grew up in it.

There are things about the fashion industry that I miss, but I went to Apple because I felt it was a calling to one of the greatest companies on the planet. I felt we could even do a little of what we did at Burberry: uniting people to do incredible things.

Apple has said that company veteran Deirdre O’Brien, who has worked there for three decades, will take on an expanded role as its new Senior Vice President of Retail + People.

Deirdre O’Brien

O’Brien previously held the title of Vice President of Worldwide Sales and Operations. In July 2017, Apple created a new role for her: Vice President of People.

Retail and Human Resources are two very different animals and I wonder if O’Brien’s promotion to chief of retail and people is just a temporary assignment. Apple’s press release did not that she would continue to oversee functions related to both retail and people, including talent development and employee relations, so there’s that.

What do you make of Angela’s departure?

Image: Angela Ahrendts photographed inside Apple’s new flagship store in Washington, DC. Photo by Amy Harrity for Vogue Business