Retail chief Ron Johnson quits Apple for JC Penney

By Jonny Evans

Chalk another name off of Apple's [AAPL] CEO Steve Jobs potential successor list, though you should also expect Apple products will get a little more high street visibility with the extremely surprising news that Ron Johnson. Apple's Senior Vice President of Retail, is leaving the company to become JC Penney's new CEO.

[ABOVE: That's Ron Johnson at the opening of the Shanghai store -- sorry about the audio quality.]

Leader of the pack

It looks like being a CEO was part of Johnson's life dream. He said, "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."

"Ron is excited about this opportunity and we hope it goes well for him," an Apple spokesperson said. "We've got a great retail team in place and are actively recruiting for his replacement."

Ron Johnson joined Apple as senior vice president in January 2000. Reporting directly to the CEO, Johnson has been responsible for Apple's extremely successful retail strategy, its overall execution and performance.


[Johnson's bio remains available on the Apple website at this time.]

New commitments

Johnson takes over as the JC Penney CEO on November1, 2011, and joins the Board of Directors, effective August 1, 2011, his new company explained.

Johnson has over 20 years of experience in retail and merchandising as well as a strong track record for delivering consistent year over year growth for billion-dollar companies.


[ABOVE: Apple's first retail store.]

They say money talks and in this case Johnson's invested some of his Apple mega-millions into his new hire. He has put $50 million of his money into JC Penney stock, stock which cannot be sold sold or hedged for the first six years of their term.

J. C. Penney's Myron E. (Mike) Ullman, III, chairman and current CEO, said: "[Johnson] is widely recognized and highly regarded in the retail industry for his creativity and innovation, his commitment to empowering employees to deliver an unparalleled customer experience, and to making stores exciting places where people love to shop. His tremendous accomplishments at Apple and Target speak to his great consumer merchandising, marketing and operational talent."

[ABOVE: Johnson gives a short interview on the launch of the fourth Manhattan store.]

Corporations with a personal touch

Johnson is likely to practice some of the Apple magic at his new role. In 2004 he explained:

"Apple's stores have always been about being more than a store. Our goal is to be part of people's lives, so we need to locate our stores to be part of their lives. We were thinking about a London store, and we wanted it to be on London's busiest street," he said.

His impact on Apple as leader of the retail team has been extraordinary.

Apple's retail stores earned roughly $3.2 billion, about 13% of Apple's total sales in 2010, the company sold 797,000 Macs in its retail stores in its last quarter, half to customers who'd never used one before.

Apple has over 350 stores worldwide. JC Penney has 1,100 stores in the USA.

What lessons might Johnson bring from Apple to JC Penney as he takes on his new role? Let us know in comments below.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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