iPhone maker Apple, battling with sagging sales in China and elsewhere, has announced that its highest paid retail boss Angela Ahrendts is leaving the company by April. The company said Ahrendts was leaving for “new personal and professional pursuits.”

Apple also announced the name of the new incumbent. Deirdre O'Brien, Apple’s official for 30 years as the new retail boss with the additional responsibility of the human resources department.

Apple  CEO Tim Cook said: “She has been a positive, transformative force, both for Apple's stores and the communities they serve. We all wish her the very best as she begins a new chapter.”

“The last five years have been the most stimulating, challenging and fulfilling of my career,” Ahrendts said in her response.

The architect of Apple stores

Ahrendts has been at the helm of Apple's retail and online stores for five years. She was one of the highest-paid employees at Apple. At a total compensation of $26.5 million in 2018, Ahrendts earned more than CEO Tim Cooks who took home $15.7 million in total compensation, according to an Apple filing.

The departure of Ahrendt coincides with Apple’s struggle in China to regain sales. Apple's recent quarterly earnings showed that it lost nearly $5 billion in China sales compared with the previous year.

Before joining Apple, Ahrendts was the CEO of fashion major Burberry. In 2014, when Ahrendts joined Apple her mandate was to strengthen the China market. That was the time when Apple just launched its iPhone 5C, an affordable smartphone model that targeted Chinese markets.

In Apple, Ahrendts took the lead in opening a number of flagship stores that offered “community space” and showcased something more than a mere selling space for the latest products.

New face signals a new approach

According to some reports, Apple has already added O’Brien to its executive leadership page as head of retail. This indicates Ahrendts might be stepping down soon and will not wait until April.

Daniel Ives, Wedbush Securities analyst described the move as a big “surprise,”  considering how Ahrendts was being talked about as the next successor to Cook.  GettyImages-Apple Retail head Apple senior vice president of online and retail Angela Ahrendts speaks to reporters during a press preview of the new flagship Apple Store on May 19, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Apple on Feb.5 has announced that Angela is leaving the company for “other professional pursuits” and appointed Deirdre O'Brien as the new retail chief. Photo: Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“But if you look at the success of the retail side, even though she's a retail legend, it's been rocky. If Apple was going to make a change, this is a good time to do it rather than six months from now, when it will launch new iPhones.” Ives added.

In a recent media interview, Ahrendts had sounded nostalgic about the fashion industry she left to join as an Apple support and hinted her comeback to the sector.