Apple names Deirdre O’Brien its new retail boss

6 Feb 2019

Deirdre O’Brien. Image: Apple

Deirdre O’Brien is a 30-year Apple veteran who helped turn the iPhone maker’s fortunes around, making it the tech giant it is today.

Apple’s retail chief, Angela Ahrendts, is to depart the company in April and will be replaced by Deirdre O’Brien, who has been appointed to the newly created role of senior vice-president of retail and people.

Ahrendts is departing the company after five years of guiding the retail and Apple Store strategy and was previously the CEO of fashion retailer Burberry. She was also one of Apple’s most highly paid executives, reportedly earning $26.6m in 2018, on par with the compensation of other senior executives.

‘People come to Apple to do the best work of their lives, and our retail teams show their passion every day, in every interaction, all around the world’

O’Brien is an Apple veteran with more than three decades of experience at the company and will also continue to lead the HR function at Apple, overseeing all people-related functions, including talent development and Apple University, recruiting, employee relations and experience, business partnerships, benefits, compensation, and inclusion and diversity.

“At Apple, we believe our soul is our people, and Deirdre understands the qualities and strengths of our team better than anyone,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.

“For more than three decades, she has helped keep Apple focused on serving customers and enriching lives. She’s an exceptional leader and she’s been a vital partner to our retail teams around the world since the very beginning. I am thrilled to work alongside Deirdre in her new role, and I know our 70,000 retail employees will be, too.”

Miracle maker to mover and shaker

Senior leaders at Apple including O'Brien and CEO Tim Cook brief staff at an Apple Store.

From left: Deirdre O’Brien, Tim Cook and Angela Ahrendts with Apple staff members. Image: Apple

O’Brien joined Apple from IBM in 1988 to lead production planning at the company’s Fremont factory, which made the Macintosh SE.

She became a part of Cook’s operations team, which overhauled the company and saved it from bankruptcy in the late 1990s with the return of Steve Jobs. She helped to quintessentially restructure the company for the surge of changes that swept in with the launch of the iMac as well as the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

In her time she worked with five different Apple CEOs, including John Sculley, Michael Schindler, Gil Amelio, Jobs and now Cook.

Her role as ‘veep of people’ is understood to have been Cook’s idea.

“People come to Apple to do the best work of their lives, and our retail teams show their passion every day, in every interaction, all around the world,” O’Brien said.

“It is the opportunity of a lifetime to work with, and learn from, such a talented, diverse and imaginative team. I am looking forward to this journey, and to continuing the important work of the people team in supporting all of Apple’s amazing employees.”

O’Brien now takes the helm of 35 online stores and 506 retail stores on five continents, taking on a legacy from Ahrendts that includes some of the most iconic retail stores in the world.

“The last five years have been the most stimulating, challenging and fulfilling of my career,” Ahrendts said. “Through the teams’ collective efforts, retail has never been stronger or better positioned to make an even greater contribution for Apple.

“I feel there is no better time to pass the baton to Deirdre, one of Apple’s strongest executives. I look forward to watching how this amazing team, under her leadership, will continue to change the world, one person and one community at a time.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years