Angela Ahrendts was the ‘Renaissance that never quite was’

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Ahrendts
Apple's ex-retail chief Angela Ahrendts with Will.i.am at the Apple Watch unveiling in 2014.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

It’s not 100 percent clear whether former retail boss Angela Ahrendts left Apple voluntarily or was pushed out. However, a new report suggests that she didn’t quite live up to the hype.

“Angela Ahrendts was supposed to be the Renaissance that never quite was,” a former Apple store manager says. “We were getting conflicting direction on a semi-regular basis and a lot of new initiatives on what seemed like a weekly basis. Nothing seemed to quite stick.”

It gives a slightly chaotic sense of the time spent at Apple by Ahrendts — who was among the company’s top earning employees.

The quote comes from Chris Matyszczyk’s “Technically Incorrect” column. In it, his unnamed ex-Apple Store manager describes the three eras of Apple’s retail ambitions.

The eras of Apple Store

The first, and supposedly best, era was under the leadership of Apple Store pioneer Ron Johnson. This is the period in which Apple Stores made their debut and saw significant growth. It’s also the point at which they were utterly unique, being unlike the way that any other retailers sold tech products.

When Johnson left, the leadership role was handed to John Browett. As one of the first major hires under Tim Cook, Browett’s tenure was under a lot of scrutiny. Unfortunately, he failed to deliver and was out of the door quickly. He has since suggested that he was a bad cultural fit for Apple. Matyszczyk writes:

“These were the darker Middle Ages,” said my source. “It was the first and, as far as I know, only time that Apple actually laid off retail employees, tightened up available hours and made its priority driving revenue rather than making the customer happy.”

Here comes Angela

Arriving from Burberry in 2014, Angela Ahrendts was touted as a hugely exciting prospect for Apple. Some commentators even suggested that she was a potential future CEO for the company. She commanded a big signing bonus and lucrative stock options. She then oversaw the redesign of the Apple Stores (think trees!) and the massive growth in China.

But, from the sound of things, not everything about her tenure clicked. “Sales traffic and volumes were dipping, and yet our sales targets continued to rise,” the former manager says. “You can imagine the pressure this would put on store leadership. Suddenly, we were being tracked based on how many ‘exceptions’ we were making for customers — either a discretionary discount or waiving of a repair fee or cost.”

Of course, it’s worth noting that these comments aren’t necessarily representative. A former employee might have all kinds of reasons not to be happy about the bosses. (Tim Cook certainly has had plenty of nice things to say about Ahrendts.) Even if these complaints are true, it’s also not clear how much can be attributed to Ahrendts.

Have you noticed a change in the way that the Apple Store experience operates? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.