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Fashion executive to run Apple retail operations

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple Inc. is entrusting the elegant stores that help define its brand to Angela Ahrendts, a respected executive who blended fashion sense with technological savvy to establish Burberry as a mark of luxury and success.

The hiring, announced Tuesday, is a coup for Apple. Besides providing the company with another sharp mind, Ahrendts should help it deflect potential criticism about the lack of women in upper management.

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Silicon Valley’s long-running reliance on men to make key decisions has come into sharper focus as Twitter Inc. prepares to go public. Its IPO documents called attention to the company’s all-male board and the presence of just one woman in its executive inner circle.

Apple has one woman, former Avon Products chief executive Andrea Jung, among the eight directors on its board.

Ahrendts, 53, will report to chief executive Tim Cook when she leaves Burberry next spring for a new position at Apple, senior vice president in charge of retail and online stores.

In a memo to employees, Cook said he wanted to hire Ahrendts from the time the two met in January and realized ‘‘she shares our values and our focus on innovation.’’

Ahrendts telegraphed her admiration of Apple in 2010 when The Wall Street Journal asked her if she was trying to mold Burberry into something similar to other luxury brands in the fashion industry.

‘‘I don’t look at Gucci or Chanel or anyone,’’ Ahrendts said. ‘‘If I look to any company as a model, it’s Apple. They’re a brilliant design company working to create a lifestyle, and that’s the way I see us.’’

Ahrendts’ arrival comes at a crucial time for Apple and the stores that showcase iPhones, iPads, iPods, and Macs. Apple’s stores aren’t doing quite as well as they were, primarily because tougher competition has forced the company to trim its prices.

In Apple’s quarter ended in June, average revenue per store declined 9 percent from the previous year to $10.1 million. The retail division’s operating profit fell 19 percent to $667 million. Apple ended the period with 408 stores in 13 countries.

The stores may have been suffering from a management void. Ron Johnson, a former Target Inc. executive credited with turning Apple stores into a thriving operation, left in 2011 to be CEO of J.C. Penney Co. His successor, John Browett, left Apple in a management shake-up a year ago. Since then, the stores have been under the management of a lower-level executive.

Now, Apple’s senior vice president in charge of brick-and-mortar stores will also run online sales. In his memo, Cook said he never had met an executive capable of doing both jobs until he got to know Ahrendts.

Ahrendts proved her ability to galvanize a well-established brand over seven years working in London as Burberry’s CEO.

Burberry, established in 1856, was growing stale until Ahrendts came along to build on the popularity of its trench coats by adding more flair and panache to the line-up.

To help build buzz, the company brought more technology to the catwalk by streaming its fashion shows through online outlets such as Twitter. The strategy boosted Burberry’s sales as Web surfers bought coats, shoes, and bags.

In the latest measure of Burberry’s success, quarterly results released Tuesday show sales rose 14 percent to $1.6 billion in the first half of this year.

Ahrendts worked closely with Burberry’s top creative officer, Christopher Bailey, who will become chief executive when she leaves.

Although she is a prominent fashion figure, Ahrendts comes from humble roots. She grew up in New Palestine, Ind., which was a city with a population of about 2,000 in her youth. She graduated from Ball State University, about 50 miles from her hometown.

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