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?