Ron Johnson reflects on his early days as Apple’s retail chief

Ron Johnson
Ron Johnson has quite the impressive resume. After attending two Ivy League universities as a student, the American businessman has gone on to have a highly successful career that most notably involved a nearly twelve-year tenure as Senior Vice President of Retail Operations at Apple. Johnson reflected on those early days in a recent interview at Stanford. Check it out ahead.
In the presentation at his alma mater, Johnson spoke about growing up as a child in Minnesota and applying to Stanford with a group of his friends. He claimed that he was not a very good student, although he was particularly interested in sports. After being put on the wait list for Stanford’s business school, Johnson got to experience living on the east coast by attending Harvard Business School.
Johnson took over the entire retail division at Apple in January 2000, under the leadership of the late co-founder Steve Jobs. The stores have gone on to be one of the most successful retail chains in the world, with the emphasis on the early days being all about the community. Apple Stores launched with high speed Internet access, which helped attract customers in the early days.
Johnson left his post at Apple in November 2011 to become the CEO of J.C. Penney, getting rid of coupons and making significant other changes in a swift manner. The results were shockingly bad for J.C. Penney, which saw its revenue decline and shareholders become increasingly frustrated. Johnson resigned from the position after just seventeen months, admitting that he was a “terrible fit” as a person who likes change at a company that is more comfortable with the status quo.
He also shared some useful advice for business in general (via ifoAppleStore):
Johnson recalled the main lesson he learned from HBS—there’s no single answer to business problems. “Don’t just fall into the expected, obvious, easy path,” he told the audience. “Don’t just rely on numbers,” because following the numbers will lead all companies to the same conclusion. Sometimes the “left-field, oddball” approach is more appropriate, he said. “Sometimes it’s about picking the unexpected path.”
I recommend watching the hour-long interview if you have some time to spare, as Johnson shares some interesting anecdotes about his time at Target, Apple, J.C. Penney and elsewhere.
Johnson was succeeded at Apple by John Browett, who has since been replaced himself by former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts.


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