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Apple Hires Its First People Officer in Executive Reshuffle

(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. is hiring its first chief people officer and shifting human resources duties from its head of retail, overhauling the way the tech giant hires and supports employees.

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The company is naming Carol Surface to the new role, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said in a memo to employees. That moves the responsibilities from Deirdre O’Brien, who has long run Apple’s human resources in addition to serving as its retail chief — a role she’ll continue to hold.

Surface “brings an incredible depth of experience, which will be invaluable in supporting our teams around the world and building on everything that makes Apple so special,” the company said in a separate statement. Apple added that O’Brien will continue to run retail “with the same excellence and care that has helped our teams do their best work and deliver unparalleled customer service.”

Surface was hired by the iPhone maker from Medtronic Plc, a health technology company with about 100,000 employees. Cook said in the memo that Surface will report to him and begin at the Cupertino, California-based technology giant in March. At Apple, she’ll oversee a workforce that numbered 164,000 at the end of the company’s last fiscal year in September.

The hire marks a significant shift for Apple’s management team. In addition to giving more clout to the HR role, it should free up O’Brien to handle an increasingly challenging retail operation. Apple’s retail chain is pushing into new countries and contending with unionization drives at stores in the US.

O’Brien, a three-decade Apple veteran, had been named to the dual role of head of retail and human resources chief in 2019 upon the departure of former retail head Angela Ahrendts. O’Brien also continues to oversee the company’s online store, which saw its own head depart last year.

In his memo, Cook said that the company had always planned to eventually hire a new head of human resources when O’Brien added retail to her responsibilities.

“When Deirdre took on the dual role of leading both the retail and people teams, we agreed that as she built up and supported our People Team and helped create a more inclusive Apple, we would also prepare to transition to a dedicated leader to take the organization forward,” he said. Cook added that O’Brien is excited to “focus more fully” on Apple retail and that she will work with Surface for a number of months during the transition.

Apple’s retail operations expanded more slowly during the pandemic, but the chain recently opened new stores in New Jersey and revamped its flagship outlet in Los Angeles. It’s also planning to soon enter markets like India and Malaysia.

Though Apple has slowed its hiring plans in the current year, it has avoided the mass layoffs underway at many large tech companies.

The reshuffle is the latest change to Apple’s leadership team this year. The company recently increased the foothold of Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams by deciding that its industrial designers would report directly to him, rather than a hardware design chief. Adrian Perica, its head of corporate development, also is adding new responsibilities after the departure of Peter Stern, a former top lieutenant to services chief Eddy Cue.

(Updates with more details throughout.)

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