Ron Johnson's ouster from JC Penny leads to speculation about a potential Apple Retail return

Former head of Apple Retail, Ron Johnson, ousted as head of JC Penny

Ron Johnson, who helped Apple and Steve Jobs establish their retail presence and make Apple Stores among the most successful commercial venues of the modern era, has been unceremoniously dumped as CEO of JC Penny. Johnson, who left Apple in 2011, had been working on applying some of that Apple Retail magic to the clothing business, but results to date had been less than spectacular. In a prepared statement, JC Penny announced they were replacing Johnson with former CEO Mike Ullman.

Apple, for their part, hasn't had much success replacing Johnson as head of retail either. Their first attempt, John Browett, wasn't a good fit, and they haven't made a second attempt yet. That's led to some speculation about Johnson rejoining Apple and reclaiming their retail division.

While everything from the famed second coming of Steve Jobs, to Ullman himself at JC Penny, to any number of hollywood movies have romanticize the idea of the great return, and Apple does reportedly have a policy in place to encourage rank-and-file returns, if or how that could or would apply at the executive level and under these circumstances, is uncertain. Johnson doesn't seem to have burned any bridges at Apple, but he didn't exactly set the world on fire at JC Penny either. Would the negative perception of his performance elsewhere tarnish the positive perception of his work at Apple? "Apple-is-doomed" headliners would almost certainly have a field day with it, but Apple itself is remarkably pragmatic and results-focused.

It's a different time. They're in different places. But they're both single again... Any chance they could make magic a second time around?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Ron Johnson's ouster from JC Penny leads to speculation about a potential Apple Retail return


Yeah... You should have seen what Ron Johnson did to the people that worked for JCPenney when he took over. Just doing away with positions across the board. Changing the way the entire stores operated and cut people who have been there for 20 years at full time back to part time and taking their benefits away. This is exactly what this country needs to rebound the economy. I stopped shopping at JCPenney all together and I still won't go back. My fiance was one of the people who got treated that way and it caused hardship in my own family. All because Ron Johnson thought he could make the corporate office a few more dollars by hurting the little people. He can rot in hell for all I care.

So, you got butt-hurt? Whatever.

It's a big company that he tried in earnest to revamp to make it relevant. His experiment failed.

You're going to break some eggs when making an omelette. Simple as that. He didn't go in as a tyrant trying to hurt the folks that worked for him. He tried to save the company.

They were beyond his help and his ideas weren't a good fit for that business. Now they've gone back to a former CEO.....interested to see this only from a 'train wreck in progress' kind of way.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

Problem is he didn't break a "few eggs". He broke 90% of the eggs at the retail level. I'm not talking about people who worked there after school and while they were in college. I'm talking about people who were almost ready to retire from the place... They had the option of taking a paycut and going to part time and working ridiculous hours (nights and weekends) or taking an early retirement (with less money saved than they previously planned). Obviously most were forced to take the latter.

Tough one there, unfortunate that folks had to get cut but I can speak for myself that the changes he implemented to JCP had me shopping there pretty consistently for the first time, well, ever. The Apple influence was clear in the look and feel of the stores. I hope they don’t revert to the "gramma and grampa" type store they were previously. JCP has some big fans over at Dappered . com, another one of my favorite sites in addition to iMore.

There's no way to please everyone, as everyone is different.

Not slighting who got hurt in any way, but looking at it from a pure business perspective was his decision and of course there were folks who were hurt in the process.

I am not slighting them but looking at the bigger picture.

So, no offense meant, but I was looking at it from a perspective of ' it's business, not personal'.

Holy crap. Seriously? I mean, how much more of a stereotype could you be? To say, "you got butt hurt. Whatever" in one breath then say "no offense" in the next? Wow. In New Jersey, that's what they say right before popping someone, "no offense, nothing personal, but -- blammo." I hope you and your family never get crushed under the wheel of corporate machinations like others have. And if you do/did, that no one will tell you with a straight face, "you got butt-hurt, whatever... but no disprescpect." Unbelievable.

Sorry for what your fiancé went through, and completely understand your point. I also agree that there is something to be said for loyalty to employees. It doesn't exist anymore, sadly
That said, he was brought in to shake things up in a company that was in bad shape. Maybe he tried too hard/too much all at once, but you have to admit, he sure shook things up, for better or worse.

Like I told someone else. I agree things needed to be changed... But he changed everything all at once within 2 months. And he ruined people who had worked loyally for the company for so long that they were nearing retirement. That's just not how you treat people... But I guess in today's world it is. It's messed up...

JC Penny was a sinking ship....half under when he took over. Something drastic had to be done to try and shake things up and a change to the status quo was going to hurt somebody along the way.

I am sorry that your lady was caught up in the mix and the face of when a company makes cuts is never an easy thing to see. Still doesn't mean that it wasn't justified for the strength of the company as a whole.

I agree that something needed to be done but he literally came in changed everything within one week of taking over. He took over in that spot and within the first week or two she went from full time to part time along with the rest of the hourly associates. She was changed to night shift. Along with the rest of her team and her benefits were yanked out from under her. I'm sorry but that's not the right way to go to save a "sinking ship". All of the loyal employees immediately started looking for positions elsewhere and none of them or their families go into the stores anymore. They will go out of their way to go anywhere else. How good is that for business? I worked there at one point too... Everything has changed. For the worst.... I look to see JCPenney fall off the map and end up in the same place as Montgomery Ward within the next 3 years.

Sorry for what you've gone through. That sucks, straight up. Inexcusable. And writing if off as 'just business' does not make it right or excuse it. That's the ultimate, classic cop-out.

I'm not familiar with the entire situation at JC Penny but I know that corporate America has killed loyalty between employers and employees in both directions. Everyone is just a number and everyone is replaceable. If Apple hires Johnson back it will be purely a business decision because it will be right for the company. I can definitley see why there is bad blood because whenever prefaces or ends a conversation with the words "business decision" someone is going to get screwed.

It amazes me how this has happened so sudden. I liked JCP before and I still kind of do. I totally love the new way that they are changing the look of the stores, but I guess it's a little bit too late. Just this past weekend I was in there and I wanted to go cash out. There were hardly any registers left. I went to check out in the shoe section for my low priced $10 hoodie (score!). I asked the associate, wow I can't even find a register what's going on? She had told me that they have people walking around with one of those scanner things that you can pay with. I said OH well that would have been so much faster---but where the heck are they?! Sigh. It's definitely an Apple-Feel in there, just not that many people who work there, and they are still doing some remodeling which seems like forever. They are in some trouble it seems. Yikes. Just goes to show, you can't be like Apple. lol. Btw--Sorry Dice, about all that. I feel like my own place of work hasn't been treating me right for the last 12 years, all part time and I've applied full time twice. Big changes for me coming next month. Quitting and moving to Floridaaaaa. Finally starting my life. I know where NOT to apply!

If I recall correctly, they were so close to bankruptcy that he was forced into making radical and fast decisions to appease the shareholders.

So sometimes it's a matter of 'let's do this....and it's going to hurt alot, but it will save the body'.

In all, it was an incredibly bold and risky move......and some have written that it was too much too soon and that eventually retail will move in that direction, but this might not have been the company to be the 'first' at doing this.

WalMart comes to mind at being the right store to implement this policy.

We shall see in ten years whether or not Ron was onto something.

I thought the change with JC Penny was for the better. The stores never looked better. I visited the store during the holidays and felt it was a great improvement and didn't make me feel like I was shopping at Kmart or sears. It's unfortunate that some people were affected by the change, but JC Penny was a store I would have never frequent. It was old and out dated. I think the company should have giving it more time to prove itself. I wish him the best with his next venture. Maybe he will go back to Apple, who knows?

So the two questions being asked in this post are would Apple rehire him? And would he go back if given the opportunity? A very old cliche in business: Old bosses don't make new friends in old buildings.
He's not likely going back.

Happy employees=happy customers. To me, you get rid of the dead weight at the top, but he could not do that. They were in the position of just about going under. You cannot continue to operate a company that way, but as long as they got their executive fat pay checks, lets not rock the boat. You have to trim the fat, but you also have to look at the loyal employee, and their years of contribution to the company. Recovery is slow, but can be done. Sad situation, but it is happing all over in large companies. Way back if someone told me Eastern Airlines would go under, I would say they were nuts, but we saw what happened. I believe companies do not recognize early problems, and just ignore them, or think things will get better. If things were addressed early on, they would still be viable. Look at Coach, 833 stores world wide, making leather handbags. They are 4billion plus, what are they doing right. Yes Apple is also susscessful, but they were just two guys working out of a garage once. It is very difficult to close the barn door after the horses are gone, but you round them up, and learn a leasson. Somewhere Pennys forgot this. I hope they recover, but again, it starts at the top, not the bottom.

I'm sure he got a big pile of money, both on the way in and out.

How many employees jobs could have been saved if they did not have to pay this flash in the pan moron all that cash to ruin the company.

When are the stock holders going to learn that with unhappy or non exhistant employees there is no business, and therefore no profits.

I hope JCP goes down in flames and the stock holders get really burned in the flames, serves them right for allowing a moron to ruin so many lives.

Apple should not even let him in the building, tell him to go work at McDonald's and try to make a living.

Tbe only thing I hate more than corporate morons is corporate morons that ruin lives with there misguided greed

Look what that idiot did to Kmart, had sears not come to there rescue that would be another casualty of corporate greed and stupidly

Ron Johnson deserved to go down with the ship and got lucky to be tossed out on his ear.

Hope he rots in hell

Will that be fries with your burger sir?

I don't know about the JC Penny financials, but I know that my mother-in-law mentioned saving the JC Penney flyer from the newspaper because it looked like they were improving the store. There is even a lawsuit between Macy's and Martha Stewart because JC Penney is selling some of Martha's stuff that Macy's has "exclusive" rights to. If Macy's sees JC Penney as a threat, I would imagine there is something real.

Was he responsible for putting Apple stores in Best Buy? Did he join JCPenny when it was close to bankruptcy? Totally in shitter?

Maybe you can go home again. Looks like it would be a good move on Apple's part. Not sure I liked the ideas he was implementing at JCPenny but it is a brand that seemed hard to change public opinion on.