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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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.