Ron Johnson was fired yesterday.
I can't say I'm surprised.
Well maybe I was a little surprised... but not that he was fired.
Here is a few things that did surprise me regarding Johnson: I was surprised that he was hired in the first place. I was surprised that the board let him convince them to follow his strategy. I was surprised that he was still here through today. And I suppose that means I was surprised he wasn't fired months ago.
How about you, are you surprised?
Well, given the fact that the company had lost half of its market xap and completely lost the support of investors, it really shouldn't be surprising.
But the numbers are merely a byproduct of the strategy, or perhaps the lack of strategy.
In this case I wouldn't call it a lack of, but rather just the wrong strategy.
Anyone remember when Mr. Johnson was first hired? I remember it well. I happened to be teaching an MBA course in strategic management at the time.
We spent the better part of an evening discussing the decision by JC Penney. The company was receiving a lot of praise from the street about the innovative decision to bring in Johnson to lead a revolution for one of Americas historic brands.
Johnson was a top marketing executive at Apple, and with Apple being sort of the case study of case studies for "how to do it right," seemingly in every facet of business, the optimism seemed warranted.
The students in my section felt the same way. They loved it, immediately deeming JC Penney to surpass Kohls. And the biggest proclamation was that people don't want to deal with specials and coupons. They just want the best price right away.
I personally feel that way too, BUT... and its a big but...
That isn't necessarily the consensus. I didn't know for sure, but I was suspicious that some people, in particular the demographic of people that shop at JC Penney may actually enjoy the "Race to Save."
So where did JC Penney go wrong?
If you step off of "Apple Cloud 9" and think pragmatically, why would any board of directors of a multibillion-dollar company think that the Apple pricing strategy would be the right thing for JC Penney?
What was the board thinking when it allowed for a savings-based retailer wanted to completely turn its back on its customers?
In order for this strategy to work JC Penney was going to have to reinvent itself and actually attract a whole new customer demographic.
With Penney's needing more immediate results, they needed a quicker strategy and what they tried just wasn't it.
So now here they are, years lost and billions of dollars along with it in a worse position than when they started.
However when your first inclination is to blame Johnson, don't... Well, don't blame him alone.
Undoubtedly he had a vision, and it was the wrong one, at least for JC Penney.
But the blame should be shared with the board. It is the board's responsibility to govern. And one of the most important roles of the board is to name the CEO.
Johnson should never have been there.
Maybe for a tech company or even a high-end retailer, but what does an Apple executive know about competing to save the consumer pennies?
I would say not much. Ask yourself this: When is the last time you saw an iPad on sale?