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Apple's Angela Ahrendts: What the pundits are saying

October 16, 2013: 10:23 AM ET

The new -- and only -- woman in Apple's top ranks is the talk of the tech world.

Arendts. Photo: Fortune

Ahrendts. Photo: Fortune

FORTUNE -- Tim Cook's pick to head his retail operations may be famous in the fashion business, but it took Apple (AAPL) watchers -- most of whom have never set foot in a Burberry outlet -- much of Tuesday to figure out who Angela Ahrendts is.

Then the pundits weighed in.

Henry BlodgetBusiness Insider: "One question that arose after the news broke was why Ahrendts would go from CEO of Burberry to SVP of an Apple division — a seeming step down on the corporate hierarchy. There are likely at least two answers to this. The first is that Apple's retail business is vastly larger than Burberry, with about $16 billion in annual sales vs. Burberry's ~$2+ billion. The second is that, if Ahrendts fits into Apple's culture and does an excellent job running its retail business, she probably has a good chance to become the company's next CEO."

John Paczkowski, AllThingsD: "Coming as it does following the ouster of former Apple retail boss John Browett, who was shown the door after just nine months on the job, Ahrendts's appointment is a crucial one for the company. Apple's retail business is a keystone of its success, and, according to an early morning all-hands memo from CEO Tim Cook, there's no better person in the world to run it than Ahrendts."

Simon Ungless, San Francisco Academy of Art: "It's about being able to tap into trends -- not just fashion trends, but what people want in their lives, what they're talking about -- while maintaining a sense of the brand. I think that's what she's done at Burberry very well, and that feels like something they've lost at Apple." (via NYT)

Om Malik, GigaOm: "I have said it before and I will say it again: Apple doesn't really have the internet gene, and it shows up time and again in how its products intersect with the internet and online services. A lot of that has to do with Apple's culture. Apple is a company that is notoriously closed and insular in terms of ideas, both adopting and adapting to them; just look at Apple's presence on social. Burberry under Ahrendts seemed the exact opposite."

Burberry's $15,000 watch

A $15,000 Burberry watch

Jessica Lessin, Jessica Lessin: "Apple's new retail chief Angela Ahrendts is a watch lady, say people who know her. I am certainly not implying that Apple, which is developing the iWatch, nabbed this high-profile executive because she loves watches or because one of her most recent additions to the Burberry line was a very high-end watch brand (both true).  I also hear she took particular interest in the watch retailing space in Burberry stores. Let's just say her passion for watches is a coincidence. Or maybe just a plus. Needless to say the merchandising around the iWatch, whenever it arrives, will be remarkable."

Danielle Levitas, IDC: "What they need is someone like (Ahrendts) to say 'No woman is ever going to wear that,' They're not just making tech gadgets for tech geeks." (via Mercury News)

Carolina Milanesi, Gartner: "I think Apple looked at Burberry and the challenges they had in the market, and saw her as the one who brought back that aspirational brand and then grew it in places like China, Korea and elsewhere. Those speak to the challenges Apple is having. Like Burberry, Apple has to deal with the fact that its brand is everywhere because of the iPhone, but they cannot run the risk that the brand is seen as cheap." (via Computerworld)

John Gruber, Daring Fireball: "From Apple's perspective, there's no such thing as an 'emerging market'. There are certainly cultural differences between consumers in different countries, but the bottom line is that there are people who can afford iPhones and iPads, and people who can't. The class of people who can afford Apple products is growing faster in China than it is anywhere else... Apple's hirings of Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts (to head Apple's online and retail stores) and former Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve ("special projects") fit right into this dynamic. Apple's path to success in China (and much of the rest of the world) is not to lower itself and compete purely on price against low-cost commodity Android devices. It is the opposite: to further separate its products, in terms of branding and quality, from its competition. The sweet spot for Apple in China is the same as it is in the U.S. and elsewhere: attainable, affordable, casual luxury."

Ben Thompson, Stratechery: "We've clearly never seen a tech company like this before. Perhaps it's time to stop using tired PC tech company metaphors to predict their future."

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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