Ron Johnson Speaker & Booking Information

Former CEO of JC Penney
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Ron Johnson is the former chief executive officer of J. C. Penney. He was fired in 2013 after his makeover of J. C. Penney stores failed and the stock nosedived. Previously, he was the senior vice president of retail operations at Apple Inc., where he pioneered the concept of the Apple Retail Stores and the Genius Bar, and the vice president of merchandising for Target Corporation, where he was credited for making the store "hip." He is currently the head of Enjoy, a startup company.

At Target, Johnson was vice president of merchandising, where he was responsible for launching the Michael Graves line of consumer products.

Johnson joined Apple Inc. as senior vice president of retail operations in January 2000. At the suggestion of Millard Drexler, Johnson's retail team and a development team headed by Allen Moyer from The Walt Disney Company then began a series of mock-ups for the Apple store in a warehouse near the company's headquarters in Cupertino. Under the leadership of Johnson, according to an article in the New York Times, the Apple Stores have been responsible for turning "the boring computer sales floor into a sleek playroom filled with gadgets." Under Johnson's direction, Apple's retail stores achieved a record level of growth, exceeding a billion dollars in annual sales within two years of their debut, surpassing the previous record set by the Gap clothing retailer. Apple in 2012 operated more than 400 stores, including outlets in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Hong Kong and Japan. According to Fortune "and not just the architecture. Saks, whose flagship store is down the street, generates sales of $362 per square foot a year. Best Buy stores turn $930 - tops for electronics retailers - while Tiffany & Co. takes in $2,666. Audrey Hepburn liked Tiffany's for breakfast, but at $4,032 per square foot, Apple is eating everyone's lunch". In 2011 Apple Stores in the United States had revenue of $473,000 for each employee. According to the research firm RetailSails, the Apple Store chain ranked first among U.S. retailers in terms of sales per unit area in 2011, with sales of US$3,085 per square foot, almost doubling Tiffany & Co., the second retailer on the list. On October 31, 2007, Johnson exercised 700,000 stock options in Apple shares, with a strike price of $23.72, and then sold the stock later that day for $185 to $185.21 apiece, netting him a $112 million profit. It was reported that Johnson earned $400 million during his seven and a half years at Apple.

After his success at Apple and Target, Johnson was hired as chief executive officer by J. C. Penney in November 2011, succeeding Mike Ullman, who had served as CEO for the preceding seven years. Ullman then served as chairman of the board of directors but was relieved of his duties in January 2013. Bill Ackman, a J. C. Penney board member and head of hedge fund Pershing Square had strongly supported bringing in Johnson to shake up the store’s stodgy image and attract new customers. Johnson was given $52.7 million when he joined J. C. Penney, and he made a $50 million personal investment in the company. After being hired, Johnson tapped Michael Kramer, an Apple Store veteran, as chief operating officer while firing many existing J.C. Penney executives. When Johnson announced his transformation vision in late January 2012, J. C. Penney’s stock rose 24 percent to $43. Johnson's actual execution, however, was described as "one of the most aggressively unsuccessful tenures in retail history". While his rebranding effort was ambitious, he was said to have "had no idea about allocating and conserving resources and core customers. He made promises neither his stores nor his cash flows would allow him to keep". Similar to what he had done at Apple, Johnson did not consider a staged roll-out, instead he "immediately rejected everything existing customers believed about the chain and stuffed it in their faces" with the first major TV ad campaign under his watch. Johnson defended his strategy, saying that "testing would have been impossible because the company needed quick results and that if he hadn’t taken a strong stance against discounting, he would not have been able to get new, stylish brands on board." Many initiatives that made the Apple Store successful, for instance the "thought that people would show up in stores because they were fun places to hang out, and that they would buy things listed at full-but-fair price" did not work for the J.C. Penney brand and ended up alienating its aging customers who were used to heavy discounting. By eliminating the thrill of pursuing markdowns, the “fair and square every day” pricing strategy disenfranchised JC Penney’s traditional customer base. Johnson himself was said "to have a disdain for JC Penney’s traditional customer base. When shoppers weren’t reacting positively to the disappearance of coupons and sales, Johnson didn’t blame the new policies. Instead, he offered the assessment that customers needed to be “educated” as to how the new pricing strategy worked. He also likened the coupons beloved by so many core shoppers as drugs that customers needed to be weaned off." While head of J. C. Penney, Johnson continued to live in California and commuted to work in Plano, Texas by private jet several days a week. Throughout 2012, sales continued to sag dramatically. In the fourth quarter of the 2012 fiscal year, same-store sales dropped 32%, which led some to call it "the worst quarter in retail history." On April 8, 2013, he was fired as the CEO of J. C. Penney and replaced by his predecessor, Mike Ullman

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