updated 11:55 am EDT, Tue June 14, 2011
Apple VP Ron Johnson exits for JC Penney
(Updated with an Apple statement) Apple lost a cornerstone of its retail efforts on Tuesday as its retail VP Ron Johnson exited to become the CEO of JC Penney. He would replace Mike Ullman in the top spot on November 1 and would join the board of directors on August 1. Ullman would stay on as executive chairman of the board.
Johnson described the move as fulfilling a lifelong ambition and a chance to revitalize the department store. He was determined enough that he invested the equivalent of $50 million based on 7.5-year warrants of nearly 7.3 million shares of JC Penney stock. He can't sell or hedge them for the first six years and has to face a strike price of just under $30 per share.
"I've always dreamed of leading a major retail company as CEO, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help JC Penney re-imagine what I believe to be the single greatest opportunity in American retailing today, the Department Store," he said.
For Apple, the move costs it one of its most important retail executives. Johnson jumped ship from Target to Apple in 2000 and helped the company shape its concepts from the outset, including their brightly lit interiors, an emphasis on being able to try systems in an ideal environment, and the Genius Bar. He helped Apple take its retail presence from just two stores that many doubted would persist to over 300 that range as far as Australia and China.
Ironically, Johnson may have helped steer computer sales away from the department store model and more towards dedicated shops. Microsoft has been desirous enough of Apple's success to mimic its strategy in a handful of stores of its own.
Apple hasn't named a successor.
Update: In a statement, Apple said it had a "great retail team" and was "actively recruiting" for Johnson's replacement. The company claimed no ill will for losing the retail veteran.
"Ron is excited about this opportunity and we hope it goes well for him," the company said.