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Apple Hires Dixons Boss To Run Its Retail Stores

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Apple CEO Tim Cook has defended his decision to hire the boss of Dixons to run Apple’s retail stores

Apple has taken the unusual step of opting for an outsider to run its chain of Apple stores around the world.

This week the company revealed it had hired John Browett, the chief executive of Dixons Retail, one of the Europe’s largest electronic retailers.

However the appointment has not been without some concern from industry analysts and Apple’s fan base, prompting a rapid response from Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook.

Retail Appointment

Apple said that from April, John Browett will join the company as senior vice president of Retail. Browett will be reporting to CEO Tim Cook, and will be responsible for Apple’s retail strategy and the continued expansion of Apple retail stores around the world.

Apple currently has approximately 361 shops located in 11 different countries. It is expecting to open another 40 shops this year (three quarters of outside the United States), with China likely to be the main recipient for these new retail outlets.

“Our retail stores are all about customer service, and John shares that commitment like no one else we’ve met,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We are thrilled to have him join our team and bring his incredible retail experience to Apple.”

Browett has been CEO of Dixons Retail since 2007 and prior to that he held a series of executive positions at Tesco plc including CEO of Tesco.com. He is replacing Ron Johnson, who left Apple last year to become the chief executive of JC Penney. Johnson was responsible for the successfully growth of Apple’s retail stores since 2001, so Browett has some big shoes to fill.

Surprise Move?

Browett’s appointment has certainly raised some eyebrows, considering Apple tends to promote from within whenever possible. Also, the decision to opt for a Dixons executive, which has a traditional electronic retail operation compared to that of Apple’s more trendy approach, has been flagged up by some industry analysts.

“Dixons isn’t a retailer you look at as being that innovative,” Gene Munster, an analyst at the investment bank Piper Jaffray was quoted as saying in a New York Times blog. “People in the UK who know those stores don’t feel very good about them.”

But he pointed out that Apple done this type of thing before (hiring outside talent). “Apple obviously has a good sense for picking talent,” he said.

The industry concerns were also reflected among Apple’s fan base, but Apple CEO Tim Cook quickly responded to the disquiet.

Tim Cook Email

This concern was highlighted by photographer and Apple user Tony Hart, who emailed Tim Cook to express his concerns about Browett’s credentials for the job. Cook promptly responded to Hart’s email, much like the late Steve Jobs was prone to do.

“Now I don’t know John or his career in the least, but as a UK customer I am familiar with Dixons and the DSG group that owns them and other similar stores. They have a spectacularly bad reputation and are considered to be one of the worst retailers in the UK in any market,” wrote Hart in his email to Tim Cook.

But this drew a quick response from Apple’s Cook.

“I talked to many people and John was the best by far,” wrote Cook. “I think you will be as pleased as I am. His role isn’t to bring Dixons to Apple, it’s to bring Apple to an even higher level of customer service and satisfaction.”

Dixons is currently the second largest electronics retailer in Europe and has some 1,200 stores across Europe. Browett reportedly helped turn around Dixons from being an unprofitable business with a poor customer service track record. He also managed to secure the rights to sell the first Apple iPad ahead of British rivals, and is said to be an active manager and very knowledgeable technically.