Apple 2.0

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Apple's Angela Ahrendts: 'Wicked smart' and empathetic too

January 7, 2014: 10:56 AM ET

How did the CEO of Burberry get hired to run Apple retail?

Ahrendts

Ahrendts

FORTUNE -- Angela Ahrendts was happy to be interviewed last summer by Jeff Chu -- my former Time Magazine colleague -- while she was still running Burberry (BURBY).

That door slammed shut the day Apple (AAPL) announced that she had been hired to run Cupertino's retail empire. But by then Chu had gathered enough material to put together the best profile yet on Apple's first female senior vice president since 2006 -- a C-level star who shines so bright that after she was hired Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, a onetime Apple intern, tweeted

"I just saw Future Apple CEO @AngelaAhrendts on her farewell @Burberry tour! The most important hire Tim Cook has ever made!"

Chu offers some fresh details about what Ahrendts is expected to bring to Apple (hint: not stylish computer wearables), but what interested me most was what Chu learned about the search criteria Tim Cook gave the recruiting firm Egon Zehnder after Cook's first choice to run Apple Retail -- John Browett -- crashed and burned. An excerpt:

Cook frequently uses the term wicked smart to describe the people who already work at Apple, as well as the ones whom he wants to work at Apple, and Browett fit. Problem was, he proved less deft at navigating Apple's often ferocious executive environment. "John was definitely wicked smart," says someone who has worked with both men. "But even wicked-smart people don't necessarily know how to figure out a culture..."

Following Browett's departure ... Apple once again turned to Egon Zehnder. The criteria didn't really change, but the priorities did. There were "big learnings when John didn't work out," says one company insider. "Wicked smart" was redefined more broadly and carefully. People skills and the ability to shape--as well as adapt to--culture "became more paramount."

In a companywide email announcing Ahrendts's hiring, Cook wrote that she "places the same strong emphasis as we do on the customer experience." But he also added, significantly, that "she cares deeply about people and embraces our view that our most important resource and our soul is our people." (Of course, she was also deemed "wicked smart.")

LINK: Can Apple's Angela Ahrendts spark a retail revolution?

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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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