Apple’s Retail Exec Ron Johnson To Quit For… J.C. Penney!


Steve Jobs and Johnson at Apple's Fifth Avenue Apple Store grand opening.  Photo: Richard Agullar
Steve Jobs and Senior-VP of Retail Ron Johnson at Apple's Fifth Avenue Apple Store grand opening. Photo: Richard Aguilar.

Apple’s VP of retail Ron Johnson is quitting to take the job as president J.C. Penney, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The company is expected to announce Johnson’s appointment later today. It’s a surprising move.

Update: It’s official. J.C. Penney has confirmed that Johnson will become CEO on November 1. Plus, Johnson is investing $50 million of his own money!

Johnson is famous for re-inventing retail at Apple. It has made him rich and famous. J.C. Penney is the crappy department store you go out of your way to avoid at the mall. However, Johnson will eventually become chief executive of the department store chain, and it has a much bigger footprint than Apple.

Johnson joined Apple from Target in 2000 and was responsible for the concept of Apple’s stores, with their low-key community vibe, solution stations and Genius Bars. He helped build the chain of more than 300 stores into the most successful in retail, including some amazing flagship properties.

The hire is a coup for J.C. Penney, a middle-of-the-road department store chain of 1,100 stores that faces stiff competition from Macy’s Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. Total sales last year reached $17.8 billion, up 1.2% from 2009 though still well below its pre-recession levels.

Mr. Johnson has won kudos for reinventing the concept of the retail store at Apple. Apparel retailers have long admired Apple’s store environments, including their spare, uncluttered layout and use of handheld checkout devices.

Why do you think Johnson moved on? Maybe it’s because his retail peons are getting restless and want to start a union?

UPDATE: It looks like Johnson finally wanted to be a CEO and relishes a challenge. Here’s what he said in J.C. Penney’s statement:

I’ve always dreamed of leading a major retail company as CEO, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help J. C. Penney re-imagine what I believe to be the single greatest opportunity in American retailing today, the Department Store. I have tremendous confidence in J. C. Penney’s future and look forward to working with Mike Ullman, the Executive Board and the Company’s 150,000 associates to transform the way America shops.

Johnson is also putting down $50 million of his own money, in a sign of his “confidence” in the company. Weird!

As a demonstration of his confidence in J. C. Penney’s long-term potential, Mr. Johnson requested and has committed to make a personal investment of $50 million in the Company through the purchase, at fair market value, of 7 1/2-year warrants on 7.257 million shares ofJ. C. Penney Company stock. The warrants cannot be sold or hedged for the first six years of their term and have a strike price of $29.92, the closing price of the stock on the business day prior to Mr. Johnson’s commitment to purchase the warrants.

WSJ: J.C. Penney Nabs Top Apple Executive

  • supertino

    Why isn’t there any easy source link in your articles?

  • George Farrell

    Is he becoming the president OF JCPenney, or is he quitting to take the same job and calling himself president JCPenney?

  • CharliK

    This has nada to do with one unhappy guy at one store that started a union and can’t seem to get anyone else to sign on. 

    Apple is a company that loves to get rid of folks for new and better opportunities whether it is in the exec crew or just at a store. In fact just this past week I have had cause to be at 3 different stores in the LA area when they were ‘clapping out’ a departing employee. One was going to go off to law school out of state, another was hired at a studio and the third was hired for a tv show acting gig. 

    Johnson was apparently hand picked by Jobs and likely hand picked his VP staff and trained them to be able to take his job one day. He’s moving on to bigger and better and one of them is also. And given how crappy every JC Penny store I have ever been it was in terms of service quality I would say that they should be lucky. Cause even at its worse, Apple service is way better than theirs and if they can do half as well as Apple on that front it is a change for the better.  

  • Ramón

    JC Penny is STILL in business?!?

  • TechAficionado

    I wonder if Penney’s board asked him:  “Do you want to sell beautiful, magical products for the rest of you life, or do you want to change the supplier of men’s sport coats?”

  • imajoebob

    This is a prime example of how the tech world – and especially the Fanboy world – differs from the real world.  This is a great move by and for Johnson, and JC Penney.  Jobs didn’t bring Johnson in to be a computer guy.  He’s a RETAILER.  He did an amazing job creating the Apple Store.  Now he has an opportunity to reinvent one of the biggest retailers in the world.

    If Ford offered Ive the chance to head design for them you wouldn’t be scoffing at it, you’d be drooling for a chance to buy his first new escort.  But somehow retailing is beneath the Fanboys, except Apple’s tiny little niche?  Is Penny’s my first choice (or even A choice) when I go to the mall?  No.  But when I have ended up there (hey, maybe we can find something at JC Penney?) I’ve been pleasantly surprised by their mix of merchandise, in both quality and pricing.

    What Penney’s lacks is an identity, and the way that draws customers to your store.  Who could be better at forging a new, motivating, iron-clad identity for a retailer than Johnson?  Retailing is science – from economics to psychology to logistics.  It’s an unforgiving, vicious business.  If you don’t have ALL the skills ALL the time you go from being the king to nothing overnight.  But if you know what you’re doing, and can execute it, the sky is the limit.  

    By way of comparison, Apple Stores did over $1 billion in sales in 2010.  Crappy old JC Penney did almost $18 billion.  If that doesn’t register with you fanboys (and I’m one of you), think of it this way: Johnson just went from being the guy in charge of developing Final Cut to the guy in charge of Windows (including the inherent problems that holds).  If you’re considered a development “rock star,” which job would you want?

  • Thomas

    It’s simple.

    He got tired of going to the woodshed daily, and he wants to run his own show.  

    Plus, when iconic CEOs move on, the stock tanks.