Photo: Ian Gavan / Getty Images
JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson has been eviscerated by analysts, the media, shoppers, his own employees and anyone else who has anything to say about JCPenney.What we’ve learned over the past few months is that Johnson doesn’t care.
Not one bit.
He’s not afraid of putting his reputation on the line, and he’s not afraid of getting blasted.
His career and legacy ride on the success of his JCPenney turnaround, and that’s because he put himself in the situation by leaving Apple for this job. This is what he wanted. He knew what he was getting into. He’s all-in.
Johnson has put himself right in the spotlight. He’s not hiding, mysteriously tugging strings behind the scenes at the embattled retailer.
When JCPenney has its quarterly updates for investors, Johnson and his C-suite fly into New York City and go on stage to present for hours on what their plans are for the future. These aren’t hyped up speeches like at Apple product announcements where the crowd repeatedly cheers with euphoria. These are dire days at JCPenney, and he’s not afraid to put his face on them.
He went on stage to be interviewed in front of everybody at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen even as his company’s numbers looked bleaker than ever. Fortune’s Jennifer Reingold didn’t go easy on him either, but he answered her inquiries with confidence and a smile. He has done interviews with the Wall Street Journal and Women’s Wear Daily.
Now, Johnson and JCPenney has stayed relatively quiet about certain topics. When there are layoffs, for instance, it always gives a toned-down, “greater good” excuse. After all, that’s one topic every retailer has to be careful with, as it can devastate a company’s public image. These are real people getting cut, and it’s happening by the thousands at JCPenney.
So, does he deserve the beating?
Yes. He absolutely deserves to get called out for bad results.
But everything needs to be put in context. Things were always going to get worse before they got better. In retail, executives often have an unreasonably short leash. Once their plans are set, they’re expected to make a tangible difference over the next big season.
Look at Wet Seal’s Susan McGalla, who was booted from her chief executive job after just 11 months at the retailer. Those months were abysmal, but she had said her plan would take years. Johnson said in January that his plan will take four years.
Sometimes, people just don’t want to wait. Citigroup says that Johnson has until August to turn things around. UBS says that his “judgment day” is the second half of 2012. A gaggle of Forbes contributors bash Johnson’s strategy constantly (and some of their writers are brilliant retail minds, who make very good points, like Walter Loeb.) We’ve criticised Johnson extensively here at Business Insider as well.
You have to listen to advice as a leader. Surely he does — he has some of the best advisors in the retail business at his side (even though one key figure, his former president Michael Francis, is now gone.)
But you also have to ignore all the chatter. Many analysts and pundits make valid arguments, but even they don’t know everything that’s churning behind closed doors at JCPenney. When doing something like this, you can only listen to those you trust most and follow through.
To do what Johnson is trying to do with JCPenney, you can’t let yourself get rattled, and Johnson looks anything but rattled. He’s totally committed — for better or worse — and he’s not afraid of the consequences.
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