Jun 11

Apple loses a good one

Ron Johnson is one talented man.

After turning Target into what it is today, he was largely responsible for taking Apple from zero retail stores to a phenomenally successful global chain of over 300 today. That’s one hell of a resumé.

Honestly, I was shocked to hear that Ron was leaving Apple to become CEO of J.C. Penney. That’s because I couldn’t imagine anyone in his line of work having a better gig. He makes boatloads of money, which will become tanker-ships of money as his stock and annual vesting continue to pile up, and he runs what is widely considered  the gold standard of retail, selling the world’s coolest products.

That’ll teach me to impose my values on someone else’s life.

But now that I’ve read more about Ron’s decision, I do get it. It’s been an exhilarating ride, but he’s eager to try his hand at being Number One. As many will testify, it’s not easy working under Steve, and one has to follow his own dream.

It was pretty cool that J.C. Penney’s stock jumped up over 10% on the news of Ron’s hiring. And why not. For a retailer sorely in need of an excitement infusion, Ron represents the ultimate upgrade.

The analysts’ reactions seem to be 100% positive on Ron and J.C. Penney, as they should be. The quotes from all parties involved are super-positive, as they should be.

Of course, nobody can predict how these things will really play out. The only thing we do know is that it’s pretty darn tough to instill new values in an old organization. It takes  vision, talent, energy and rare leadership skills.

One of J.C. Penney’s board members referred to Ron today as “the Steve Jobs of retail.” Great sentiment, but (a) Steve Jobs is actually the Steve Jobs of retail, and (b) Mickey Drexler was already nicknamed the Steve Jobs of retail a while back. (We may just have to let them fight it out.) We know that the Apple Stores would never be what they are without Ron, but we also know that the Apple Stores reflect Steve’s minimalist tastes and assorted obsessions.

Being a brilliant retail thinker doesn’t necessarily make one a great CEO. Entirely different skill sets. But I had the pleasure of engaging with Ron for a brief period, and from my experience I think he has a good shot at winning the hearts and minds of the J.C. Penney family.

What happens to the Apple Stores without Ron? Fortunately, there’s a huge difference between inventing an idea from scratch and taking over an existing organization. The Apple Stores are now a well-oiled machine, and the lines for this job opening may be as long as the lines for iPad 2. Hopefully they’ll find someone who’s a good match for the Apple culture.

So happy trails, Ron, and a big thanks for making retail history at Apple. You deserve this opportunity. I don’t think I’ll be shopping at J.C. Penney anytime soon, but I promise to keep an open mind.

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  • If I were Ron Jonson and if I took one look at jcpenney.com I’d see they couldn’t do e-commerce much worse if they tried.

    I wonder if Ron intends the future JPC online will be based around http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebObjects ?

    BTW was that Ron who stood up during the keynote to demo something? He didn’t look at all comfortable under all those lights & cameras.