Angela Ahrendts’ plan for the future of Apple Retail: China emphasis, mobile payments, revamped experience

Ahrendts succeeds Jobs, Johnson, and Browett (Graphic by Michael Steeber)

When Ron Johnson finalized his decision to move from leading Apple’s retail strategy to become the Chief Executive Officer of J.C. Penney, the executive jumped in his car to drive to Steve Jobs’ home and notify the Apple co-founder in his living room of the decision. During his short car ride to Jobs’ Palo Alto home in the summer of 2011, Johnson likely thought about how he would explain his choice. But what Johnson likely did not imagine is that it would take nearly three years for Apple to find a true new leader for the stores the duo created.

In one of current Apple CEO Tim Cook’s first major missteps, the long-time operations maestro hired John Browett, formerly of Dixons, to run retail. Browett’s hire was immediately met with skepticism from Apple customers and retail employees, but Cook defended the hire and called the British executive the “best [choice] by far” to run Apple’s retail division. In the six months that he ran retail, Browett cut back on employee hours, initiated layoffs, and fell out culturally with the rest of the Apple executive team.

John Browett visiting Apple Store

Alongside Scott Forstall, Browett was ejected from the Cupertino-based company, leaving Tim Cook and head-hunting firm Egon Zehnder, again, with the tall task of finding a suitable replacement for Ron Johnson. As the man who ran Dixons, the United Kingdom equivalent to Best Buy, Browett was in many ways built in the image of Johnson. Johnson ran Apple Retail for nearly a decade, and before that he was an executive at both Target and Mervyns. But unlike Browett, Johnson fit into Apple’s culture and was close with both Jobs and Cook throughout his tenure.

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Apple poaches Levi’s Senior VP for U.S. Retail as search for chief continues

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Apple has poached Enrique Atienza from Levi Strauss, a global clothing sales powerhouse, to become a top director for its U.S. Retail market, according to sources with knowledge of the hire. Atienza served as Senior Vice President, Retail Americas and Global Store Operations at Levi’s, according to Levi Strauss spokeswoman Sarah Young. Young also said that Atienza recently left the company, but she would not confirm details regarding the transition or circumstances…
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Ron Johnson out as CEO of JCP, Apple Retail boss job still open

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Former Apple Retail Chief Ron Johnson is out at JCPenney after his radical retail redesign failed to ignite sales in the same manner in which Apple Stores had grown accustomed. Ron Johnson left Apple in 2011 for the JCP job after a decade at Apple.  He helped design the original Apple Store concept after being lured away from Target by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. He pioneered concepts like the Genius Bar which was unheard of at the time but still a growing trend in the industry.

We know more than a few folks who would like to see him back at Apple which meanwhile has found him difficult to replace. One such attempt was the hiring and subsequent firing of John Browett, a former Dixon’s UK CEO.

Johnson continued to live in the Bay area during his stint at JCP commuting to Plano Texas via Jet so…

https://twitter.com/parislemon/status/321367332289138690

https://twitter.com/adamlashinsky/status/321369011633917952

https://twitter.com/reuters/status/321371936544399360

We’ve reached out to JCP and Apple for comment and will update as appropriate. Press release follows:
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Observations on Forstall and Browett departures from Apple (Updated)

The announcement

We knew that Browett was fired last week, but Apple was waiting for a good time to announce the move. We’re not sure exactly what was the nail in Forstall’s coffin but Inside Apple/Fortune’s Adam Lashinky’s take is that Forstall’s refusalto sign the Maps apology is what sealed his fate. Forstall was at last week’s iPad mini event but uncharacteristically didn’t present anything.


iPad Mini launch last week

Interestingly, Cook also did the apologizing for Browett’s hair-brained schemes to cut head counts at Apple Stores ahead of the holiday shopping season to save a few bucks.

Lesson to learn: Be big enough to apologize publicly. Look at Bob Mansfield. Out of Retirement Mansfield publicly apologized for the Retina MacBook Pro EPEAT fiasco; fast forward months and all of a sudden he’s got his own division and a lucrative two year contract. Apple execs should be falling over themselves to apologize for their mistakes going forward.

The rationale

Browett’s situation was simple: everyone hated him, especially his retail employees. Apple watchers, especially those familiar with Dixons in the UK (Americans: think Best Buy), were shocked at the decision to allow him to follow Ron Johnson as Apple’s Retail head.  Cook initially defended Browett but the #Firebrowett movement was too strong. So far Tim Cook is 0 for 2 in big outside hires (Mark Papermaster was hired during one of Jobs’ absences) . That might be something to be concerned about.

Forstall’s departure is an entirely different situation. Although more information may come to light, in the hours after the announcement it seems a power struggle happened, and the Ive camp won out over Forstall’s.  The two execs and Steve Jobs subordinates have faced off for years and reportedly wouldn’t be in the same meetings unless called specifically by Tim Cook. It certainly didn’t help that Mansfield didn’t like Forstall either. I think we’ll hear more of the details in the weeks and months ahead.

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