01/31/2012 12:02 EST | Updated 04/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Apple names European electronics retailer's CEO to lead its lead Apple Stores operations

NEW YORK, N.Y. - In its quest to spread its stores around the world, Apple is reaching over the Atlantic to snatch the CEO of a British electronics chain to head its retail operations.

Apple Inc. said Tuesday that Dixons Retail PLC's John Browett will become its top retail executive on April 20. He will report directly to CEO Tim Cook.

Browett fills a job left open when Ron Johnson left to become the CEO of J.C. Penney Co. in November. Johnson pioneered Apple's highly successful retail stores, known for their stark design and their Genius Bar, where Apple customers get technology advice and support.

About two-thirds of Apple's 361 stores are in the U.S. However, of the 40 stores Apple expects to open this fiscal year, three-quarters will be outside the U.S., with China being a major focus. Apple currently has stores in only 12 countries, including the U.S.

Browett has served as CEO of Dixons since 2007. During his tenure, the company continued an aggressive expansion in Europe. It has about 1,200 stores and is Europe's second-largest electronics retailer, after Germany's Media Markt.

Dixons' brands include Currys in the U.K., Elkjop in Norway, Kotsovolos in Greece, Unieuro in Italy and Electro World in Turkey and the Czech Republic.

Analysts give Browett credit for improving customer service at Dixons.

"Our retail stores are all about customer service, and John shares that commitment like no one else we've met," Cook said in a statement Tuesday.

The chain hasn't seen much financial success during his tenure, however, as it has been undercut by the recession and subsequent belt-tightening in Europe.

Dixons' sales have risen only 8 per cent in the past five years, and profits are down sharply. Its stock has lost more than 90 per cent of its value in that time. It fell 7.6 per cent further in London trading Tuesday after news of Browett's departure.

Before Dixons, Browett held several positions at the British retailer Tesco PLC and headed its online operations.

Dixons named Sebastian James as Group CEO and Katie Bickerstaffe to the newly created role of CEO-U.K. and Ireland.

Apple's stock rose $2.41 to $455.42 in late morning trading Tuesday. The day's high of $458.24 was yet another all-time high.

Apple's stores accounted for about 13 per cent of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company's revenue in the fiscal year that ended in September, but employed about 60 per cent of the total number of Apple workers.

Dixons has a very similar number of employees — about 39,000 — but has far more stores: 1,200.