Power Players 2017: Apple's Angela Ahrendts Says Retail Is the Product

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Angela Ahrendts.
Angela Ahrendts. Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

When Apple announced its newest devices in September, including the buzzy iPhone X, one product stole the show—and it wasn't made of metal. Angela Ahrendts, the Cupertino, California-based brand's senior VP of retail, appeared in a pink lace trench coat that immediately soared in online search queries following her presentation.

Ahrendts, whose total compensation of $22.9 million in the fiscal year through September 2016, topped that of any other Apple executive, knows a thing or two about trends. The former fashion executive worked at Liz Claiborne and Donna Karan, and she is credited with turning around Burberry—the designer of that popular pink coat—from a stuffy has-been to a luxury must-have during her time as chief executive from 2006 to 2014.

She's not technically a marketer, but her design savvy is shaping the image of the tech giant like no campaign can. In the past three years, Ahrendts has applied her business acumen to Apple, and the fruits of her labor were recently revealed in a sweeping overhaul of the $215.6 billion brand's entire fleet of stores.

"We don't call them stores anymore, we call them town squares because they're gathering places for the 500 million people who visit us every single year," said Ahrendts at Apple's September keynote event. "We think of Apple Retail as Apple's largest products, and like all of our products, we've designed new features to take the customer experience even further."

Apple is remodeling dozens of its nearly 500 stores and opening more locations that are marketed more as community spaces than transactional enterprises. New stores, as sleek as Apple devices, now have curated shop windows, public spaces for collaborations, class offerings in passions like music and photography under the Today at Apple umbrella, and sessions from local artists. It's an innovative strategy at a time when most retail players, particularly those in the brick-and-mortar space, are sorely challenged with too much physical space. Ahrendts' focus on the experiential and the move beyond the cash register are positioning the company for further retail success.

"She articulated the Burberry brand as a retailer when it was nothing else than a wholesaler of trench coats," says Erich Joachimsthaler, founder and chief executive of Vivaldi, a brand consultancy. "Now she has done the same thing again. Apple is more than just a device or a computer. She's able to create, with these 'town squares,' an Apple community."

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