Hoosier Angela Ahrendts Leaves Burberry for Apple

The now-former Burberry CEO—a New Palestine native who went to college in Muncie—departs from London for Silicon Valley.

Indiana native and Ball State grad Angela Ahrendts is leaving London for sunnier skies. The former CEO of Burberry recently accepted the newly fashioned job of senior vice president, head of retail and online stores, at Apple in California.

Hailing from New Palestine, east of Indianapolis—where she “lived vicariously through fashion magazines”—Ahrendts became one of the most important women in the business world in recent years. Before leaving Burberry, she was the highest paid CEO in London with a salary of £16.9 million ($26.4 million). Under her watch, the 158-year-old brand’s market value increased from £2.1 billion to £7 billion. So just how did she do it? Chinese sales.

That’s exactly why Apple hired her. Although there may be no face more recognizable than Apple domestically, in China, that’s not the case. Slow sales of the iPhone 5C in Asia clearly inspired Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, to fill the position that was left by John Browett in the fall of 2012 with someone who knew the territory. Apple smartphone sales in China account for only 5 percent of the market today, but with a deal between Apple and China Mobile Network looming, the hire of Ahrendts seems to be one of the final steps in Apple’s pursuit of the Chinese consumer.

Ahrendts became Burberry CEO in July 2006. She will begin her new job in the middle of 2014.

She is a friend of Jo Ann Gora, Ball State University’s president. She has visited the Muncie campus a few times, notably delivering its May 2010 commencement address. (See video above.) Said Gora then, “Despite your busy schedule, you have repeatedly and graciously met with Ball State faculty and students during their travels in New York and London.”

Ahrendts was awarded an honorary doctorate in the arena of Humane Letters at that ceremony. She then pulled out an Apple laptop—foreshadowing—and gave her speech to the assembled crowd. She mentioned that, beforehand, she had read commencement addresses from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and (wait for it) Steve Jobs. “I realized that the most important component of my life that has guided every aspect of my professional career has been my Midwestern core values,” Ahrendts told Ball State graduates then. “Do you realize that you may already possess the foundation of your success?”