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Ex-Apple exec fulfills dream, becomes JCPenney CEO

Ron Johnson

PLANO, Texas — Things just got a whole lot more interesting in the mid-tier department store space now that JCPenney has hired former Apple executive Ron Johnson to be its CEO. Johnson is a former Target merchandising executive who for the past 11 years oversaw the growth of Apple’s wildly successful and widely heralded retail operation.

In his new role at JCPenney, which he assumes on Nov. 1 when current CEO Mike Ullman relinquishes the position to become executive chairman, Johnson contends he is taking on a role that will allow him to pursue the single greatest opportunity in American retailing – reinventing the department store.

 Johnson said he had always dreamed of leading a major retail company as CEO, adding, “I have tremendous confidence in JCPenney’s future and look forward to working with Mike Ullman, the executive board and the company's 150,000 associates to transform the way America shops.”

For the past 11 years Johnson served as SVP retail at Apple where he led the company’s retail strategy from inception to more than 300 locations worldwide. While the Apple retail network isn’t large, this is one situation where size doesn’t matter as Apple stores approach to customer service and operating model are widely praised.

Prior to Apple, Johnson spent 15 years at Target, last serving as VP merchandising. During his tenure at Target, he had responsibility for categories such as men’s apparel, women’s apparel and accessories, children’s and home. According to JCPenney, Johnson is most noted for launching and leading the design initiative at Target, which began with the Michael Graves collection for home and included several other key brands such as Calphalon, Carr, Bodum and more.

He also has an MBA from Harvard Business School and his Bachelor of Arts in economics from Stanford.

Given his background, outgoing CEO Ullman’s comment that, “I am delighted that Ron is joining our board and the company,” seemed like a bit of an understatement.

“He is widely recognized and highly regarded in the retail industry for his creativity and innovation, his commitment to empowering employees to deliver an unparalleled customer experience, and to making stores exciting places where people love to shop,” Ullman said. “His tremendous accomplishments at Apple and Target speak to his great consumer merchandising, marketing and operational talent.”

JCPenney won’t be losing the services of Ullman when Johnson assumes his new position later this year. Ullman, who joined the company as chairman and CEO in late 2004 will remain on the board. He also serves as deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, sits on the board of Starbucks, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and is chairman of the board of Mercy Ships International.  

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