• Apple’s head of retail, Angela Ahrendts, is leaving the company.
  • She’ll be replaced by Deirdre O’Brien, who also heads up human resources.
  • Over the five years she worked at Apple, Ahrendts spearheaded a major redesign of the company stores.

Apple’s head of retail, Angela Ahrendts, is leaving the company after a five-year run, a surprise change that raised questions about the company’s plans for the network of roughly 500 retail stores considered vital to its sales and brand.

Ahrendts will leave Apple in April to embark on unspecified “new personal and professional pursuits,” the company announced on Tuesday. She will be replaced by Deirdre O’Brien, whose new title will be senior vice president of retail and people. She was previously Apple’s head of human resources.

The change marks one of the most high-level executive moves at Apple in recent years and comes as the company is struggling with slowing iPhone sales and weakening demand in China.

The timing of Ahrendts’ departure is “a head scratcher,” wrote Wedbush analyst Dan Ives in a note to investors on Tuesday. But he noted that the change could be good for Apple, given the company’s problems over the past year.

“A major focus of Apple with O’Brien now running the show will be catalyzing demand in China with the store experience a major factor in this region as well as other regions with consumers getting the “Apple experience” when they look to test drive new technology in the store,” Ives wrote.

Apple stock was flat in after-hours trading.

O’Brien is an Apple veteran with a low public profile

During her five years overseeing Apple’s retail stores, Ahrendts was in many ways the face of Apple’s retail experience. She joined Apple after running the fashion company Burberry, and was a notable presence at Apple’s product launches, as well as being the company’s highest-paid executive.

Ahrendts spearheaded a major retail redesign during her time at Apple, including the replacement of the “Genius Bar” service center with the “Genius Grove,” which featured indoor trees and allowed Apple technicians to roam around the store. But many older stores haven’t been refurbished, and Apple at times has seemed to press pause on its retail expansion.

While O’Brien has been worked at Apple for more than three decades, she has a much lower profile among Apple investors and company followers. There…