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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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.