Apple's retail chief Angela Ahrendts is leaving the company

Deirdre O'Brien will take over in an expanded role as the senior vice president of Retail + People.

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Apple's new senior vice president of Retail + People, Deirdre O'Brien.

Angela Ahrendts, Apple's senior vice president of retail, is leaving the Cupertino tech company in April. In an announcement Tuesday, Apple said Deirdre O'Brien would take over in an expanded role as the senior vice president of Retail + People, reporting to CEO Tim Cook. 

Ahrendts leaves as Apple is starting to see iPhone sales growth stall. In its regulatory filings, Apple said that a decline in sales could create challenges for its retail footprint -- which was expanded and revamped significantly under Ahrendts. The company said:

The Company's retail stores have required substantial investment in equipment and leasehold improvements, information systems, inventory and personnel. The Company also has entered into substantial operating lease commitments for retail space. Certain stores have been designed and built to serve as high-profile venues to promote brand awareness. Because of their unique design elements, locations and size, these stores require substantially more investment than the Company's more typical retail stores. Due to the high cost structure associated with the Company's retail stores, a decline in sales or the closure or poor performance of individual or multiple stores could result in significant lease termination costs, write-offs of equipment and leasehold improvements and severance costs.

Ahrendts introduced Apple's new retail concept stores in 2017, touting the format as a cross between a retail store and an education center, with designs resembling Apple Park. The goal was to turn Apple stores into forums for collaboration, Ahrendts said at the time.

Ahrendts left running Burberry in 2013 to spearhead strategy, expansion and operations of Apple's retail and online stores as Apple's SVP of retail. The newly created position would task Ahrendts with overseeing the strategy, expansion and operations of retail and online stores. In today's announcement, Cook praised Ahrendts as a "transformative force" for Apple's stores.

In addition to managing Apple's global retail efforts, Apple said O'Brien will continue to lead its People team, which includes "overseeing all People-related functions, including talent development and Apple University, recruiting, employee relations and experience, business partnership, 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 Cook, in a prepared statement. "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."