Johnson's resounding failure at JC Penney proves he got lucky at Apple

JC Penney chief sacked.

 

It’s back to business as usual at JC Penney this week with the departure of Apple golden boy Ron Johnson and the re-instalment of its previous CEO Mike Ullman.

Sadly for this US national institution business as usual means sliding profits and sacking employees as they continue down the long road to insolvency and obscurity.  

The markets reacted comically to the decision, sending up a cheer as the news of the ex-retail VP of Apple was relieved of his post, with shares growing by 10 per cent, and then dropping back down when it was announced who was to replace him.

Johnson joined JC Penney fresh from helping to turn Apple into the most profitable company in the world but he failed to bring this same Apple magic to the department store.

It’s almost as if people bought Apple products because everyone thought they were cool to have, not because of the store locations and opening hours. 

Indeed, people would still have bought Apple stuff even if they could only get it from the top of some mountain in the middle of nowhere on the night of a full moon. In fact, the launch day queues might have been even longer.

As he has proved from his resounding failure at JC Penney, Johnson got lucky at Apple. If his strategy at Apple as VP of retail operations would have been to lock the doors on all the outlets and turned out the lights.

I’m not trying to deny Johnson did a good job while he was at Apple, the Apple Stores around the world are a landmark in any city that’s lucky enough to have them. The point is that a child could have held the position and still sold a bazillion iPods and Macbooks since the turn of the century.

Johnson got the JC Penney job because of his successful stint at Apple. Just because someone held a job at Apple in the time of the second coming of Jobs doesn’t automatically mean they’ll be able to sell anything to anybody.

JC Penney (like a lot of other companies) needs to stop trying to emulate Apple as a way to success and try something of their own. Admittedly, for a business model as out-dated as a department store this is far easier said than done.

JP Penney. Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.
 

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.