February 5, 2019 at 8:55 PM by Dr. Drang
At first glance, it seems a little odd that Angela Ahrendts’s replacement overseeing the Apple Stores, Deirdre O’Brien, will continue on in her position as chief of human resources. O’Brien, who is currently vice president of People, and is an Apple lifer, will move above the horizontal bar on Apple’s Leadership page and become senior vice president of Retail + People,1 a new title for an Apple SVP. What makes it odd is that Retail + People looks like an enormous portfolio for one person, especially given that those duties used to be split between an SVP and a VP.
But if you look at Apple’s most recent Equal Employment Opportunity filing, you’ll see that Sales Workers make up 31% of Apple’s employee base. Only Professionals, a hair higher at 32%, beats it out, and no other employee category is even close.2 So a lot of Apple HR is already devoted to Retail.
The duties of Apple’s top people have often been broad and seemingly unfocused. Eddy Cue, for example, was put in charge of the App Store because he’d been running the iTunes Store. This no doubt seemed reasonable at the time, but it was a disaster. Running the App Store included handling app reviews and developer relations, and Cue’s tenure was one long continual complaint of app reviews taking too long and developers being treated unfairly. Putting the App Store under Phil Schiller, which on paper makes no sense for the SVP of marketing, was the solution, for which both Schiller and Tim Cook deserve credit.
I would argue that broadening Jony Ive’s design oversight to include software in addition to hardware was a mistake as big as putting Cue in charge of the App Store. The software side of Apple’s user interfaces—especially on iOS, which isn’t as hardened by long tradition as on the Mac—has become steadily more cryptic under Ive’s control. Some of this is due to Apple’s need to squeeze more functionality into the OS, but Ive hasn’t been up to the task of melding the new functions into the UI in a consistent and discoverable way.
To me, Ahrendts’s five years in charge of Retail has been similar to Ive’s time as Chief Design Officer. The Apple Stores look better than ever, but they don’t work as well as they used to. No one I know looks forward to going to an Apple Store, even when it’s for the fun task of buying a new toy. No doubt a lot of this is due to Apple’s success and the mobs of people milling about,3 but Ahrendts didn’t solve the problem of efficiently handling the increased customer load.
I hope O’Brien’s background in operations will lead to improvements in the flow of people through the Stores. If so, we’ll look back on her appointment the way we look at Schiller’s installation as head of the App Store, an example of Tim Cook’s slow but successful wrangling of a problem that arose out of Apple’s growth.