Are Apple executives set up to fail after they leave the Cupertino Colossus?

“Ron Johnson’s exit from J.C. Penney on Monday was abrupt but not particularly surprising. The former Apple (AAPL) executive credited with the design and strategy behind its 400 wildly successful retail stores was ignominiously ousted from the fashion retailer amid pressure from frustrated customers, impatient investors, and a radical strategy that outsiders had come to view as fundamentally flawed,” Brad Stone writes for Businessweek. “Apparently the man who invented Genius Bars wasn’t genius enough to sell spring dresses and kids’ back-to-school polos.”

Stone writes, “Johnson’s ignoble exit begs the question: Are longtime Apple executives primed to succeed elsewhere? Or, to put it another way, are the culture and conditions behind Apple’s legendary success so unique that their skill set doesn’t translate well at other companies? Are Apple executives set up to fail after they leave the comfortable sanctuary of Cupertino?”

“It is, of course, a complicated and probably unfair question, with a preponderance of examples that undermine any simple answer. There’s plenty of success to point to: [For example], Tony Fadell, the father of the iPod, founded Palo Alto startup Nest and is having remarkable success with its networked ‘learning thermostat,'” Stone writes. “But the unavoidable conclusion is that Apple executives do have trouble running other companies, particularly established large ones. Former Apple hardware guru Jon Rubinstein took over Palm in 2007.”

“Johnson’s case is probably unique. He left Apple not to take time off but to run a world-renowned retailer. He made a strong pitch to analysts in early 2012, involving setting low, across-the-board prices and setting up mini-stores within Penney’s walls. Then he fell flat on his face as the company’s underlying challenges—and the particular inflexibilities of its coupon-hoarding customers—came to light,” Stone writes. “Some observers think Johnson, like Mansfield, may now return to Apple, which has never filled his position.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Tim Cook did fill Johnson’s position. John Browett. A flameout of such proportion that makes Johnson’s at JCP look like a birthday candle next to a nuclear bomb blast.

Related articles:
Three ex-Apple execs exit JC Penney following Ron Johnson ouster – April 11, 2013
Yoshikami: The Ron Johnson disaster at JC Penney – April 9, 2013
Ron Johnson: Apple Stores vs. J.C. Penney – April 9, 2013
Will Apple bring Ron Johnson back? – April 8, 2013
Ron Johnson out as JC Penney CEO, says source – April 8, 2013
Ron Johnson starting to look a lot more maniacal than brilliant – March 8, 2013
If JC Penney fires CEO Ron Johnson, analyst predicts bankruptcy – March 8, 2013
J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson cuts 2,200 more jobs as sales plunge – March 8, 2013
J.C. Penney posts large loss as sales sink further – February 27, 2013
JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson capitulates, brings back sales – January 28, 2013
Apple retail’s Ron Johnson and John Browett have proved the Peter Principle is alive and well – November 13, 2012
CEO Ron Johnson switches J.C. Penney to two-tier pricing with price-match guarantee – July 26, 2012
Why is Ron Johnson’s retail strategy for J.C. Penney failing? – June 26, 2012
J.C Penney’s stock tumbles after key exec’s abrupt exit – June 19, 2012
J.C. Penney reports loss and plummeting sales in 1Q – May 15, 2012
Why Ron Johnson left Apple to head JC Penney – April 30, 2012
J.C. Penney lures another executive from Apple – April 26, 2012
Steve Jobs’ ex-lieutenant Ron Johnson adds $1.5 billion to J.C. Penney in two days – January 30, 2012
J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson: What I learned building the Apple Store – November 21, 2011
New J.C. Penney CEO Johnson hiring former Apple co-workers – November 9, 2011
Why Apple’s retail genius Ron Johnson is paying for the privilege of running J.C. Penney – June 15, 2011
Apple’s retail store chief Johnson off to J.C. Penney; expected to become CEO within months – June 14, 2011


  1. This problem as I see it ( I am a supplier to Is the culture of JCP. Also the fact that JCP does not sell anything unique that customers must have ie a Mac, ipad etc. Given these very strong head winds Johnson was destined to fail. He also as I witnessed was arrogant as to his ability to turn the ship around.

      1. Arrogant prick is the label assigned by those unwilling to change and unable to understand why they must. JCP is going to go ahead and fail now because they did not change. RJ has turned other retail establishments around, notably Target, a remarkably pleasant place to shop, especially compared to JCP.

        The BoD should have stayed the 3-5 years RJ told them it would take going in. They blinked and are going to die (figuratively) for it. Their actions may reduce the current whining, but the death rattle is unstoppable.

  2. The answer is simple: they fail ’cause Steve is not the head honcho at the other end of the rope.

    Steve’s culture is rooted deeply in Apple that’s why they succeed in Apple but not elsewhere.

  3. About twenty years ago I used to really like the penny’s house brand of underwear—cheap, and very comfortable.

    That’s about all I ever noticed about penny’s….

    1. No. John Browette did SERIOUS, REAL damage while he was vehemently (!) screwing over Apple Store employees, and vicariously Apple Store customers. We’re going to be hearing fallout from that horrible few months for YEARS.

      “Once bitten, twice shy.”

      Actually, that shyness number is more like 7x shy according to some measures. Any sane, survival and success oriented company avoids biting their customers and clients with a MANIACAL resolve. You NEVER do it. I once read that one ‘bite’ on a customer results in 70 rant complaints to friends, resulting in an exponential proliferation of BAD PR.

      Again: Study organizational behavior with devotion kids, if you expect to improve today’s bizTard world of biznizz. Bite the people who provide your livelihood (the customers and clients) and you cut your own throat. Not pretty. Instead, why not prudently and discreetly bite the asses of the worthless management of the lame-ass, self-destructive companies you work for. They require waking-the-hell-up if your lame-ass company is going to survive and thrive. Learn the positive cycle of business self-analysis, criticism, improvement and verification. It works beautifully, if applied sanely.

  4. Are Apple executives set up to fail after they leave the comfortable sanctuary of Cupertino?

    The REALLY IMPORTANT question was of course not asked:

    Q: Are today’s biznizz bozoid companies typically so far gone down the road of self-destructive work cultures and bizTard management that it is impossible for superior, modern business strategists to SAVE THEM? Example: JC Penny.

    A: Damned right YES! Ron Johnson and his satellites didn’t have a chance specifically because of JC Penney’s ruined work culture and defective management. Then toss on top of that the ‘Gotta Have A Weekly Sale!’ customer culture inherent in Penney’s shoppers, an entirely NOT Apple approach to marketing, and doom hath been wrought.

    Ron: You gotta learn A LOT more about organizational behavior. Take a class or two please.

    I know of no subject of greater importance in business today than self-destructive organizational behavior. It’s literally The Spirit Of The Age in today’s business. All you have to do is seriously study the underpinnings of our 2007 economic depression to understand exactly why. Homework required.* 😀

    * A free clue provided to the next, hopefully far superior, generation of business analysts and journalists. Get busy being better kids! Make the current generation look like the utter fools they are! (Well, most of them anyway).

  5. The JCP team panicked before Johnson’s plan was about 25% complete. He told them it would take 5 years to change. After 18 months they pulled the plug on him. They let their personal wealth threat get in the way. My wife went into a JCP store for the first time in probably 20 years or more and commented that they were finally turning it into something with some cool. They failed to realize (or forgot) that with Johnson’s plan there was some hope that a long slide into oblivion might be averted. Now all they’ve done is accelerate the slide.

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