Ron Johnson is out at JC Penny.
I can't say that I'm surprised. I was convinced he could turn this company around (and I think he still could have) but there's no doubt that the results this far have been abysmal.
Change is hard. Drastic change is often destructive before it's constructive. But when the baseboards have mold, sometimes you have to tear apart the house before you can begin rebuilding. That looks bad to the neighbors. But they didn't have to breathe the mold spores.
Is it just me, or does it now seem like Apple has been keeping his chair warm? They've still not replaced the quickly -ousted Browett and with so much gloom and doom at JC Penny, who could blame them?
Of course, Johnson might not want a demotion. I say that would be folly. Here's what lies ahead (likely) for Apple in the retail space:
1) The redesign of Apple stores in light of their massive foot-traffic. - Apple stores were so exciting because of their simple, serene impression and the availability of the gadgets for hands on trials. Have you been to an Apple store lately? The crowds have grown as Apple's fanbase has and Apple stores are now too crowded to enjoy the real world feel of using their amazing devices, even if you can manage to actually get to one.
Whether it's simple expansion, new locations altogether, or something new (maybe we have a rebirth of the Apple Cafe idea for experiencing or trying out products, with space for Mac, iOS and Software classes adjacent to it and completely separate from the proper "stores"), Johnson could make his mark all over again on the world of retail.
2) Apple TV will need a whole new showroom. - If you're in the camp that says a "real" Apple TV is coming (and by that we mean an Apple designed set) you're going to need Best Buy-sized showrooms for it, right? Or does Apple do something more like Bose stores since their product line-up for TVs would be fairly limited (one imagines). Johnson's got a big challenge here (unless, of course, Apple isn't making a TV).
3) Samsung's innovation and the coming onslaught from Google . - Samsung is about to get Apple-style mini-stores inside Best Buy. I have my own doubts about how much difference that will make, but I do think expansion of Apple distribution through other stores (at least in the US, India is a whole 'nother bag) has reached a saturation point. A new investment in their own retail space (industry-defyingly-profitable retail space) is what Apple needs.
Particularly since another big rival, Google is making a retail play as well. Whether they're selling iWatch clones or Apple TV clones or just Google Glass and Nexus phones, you can't ignore the search giant. You don't want Google to hire Johnson, do you, Tim?
Now, those are reasons why Apple might want Johnson back. Why would Johnson want to come back?
To prove he was right.
The Apple of tomorrow is (at least according to rumors) not just a company who makes and sells tablets and phones and computers. But televisions and watches and maybe an iCar someday(Yes, I know that is an April Fool's joke, but as the industry shifts to electric vehicles, it's possible that parts and manufacturing become standardized like the electronics industry and it's not just feasible but simple for Apple to build its own car), as well as the service and training portions of Apple's retail presence, don't they sound like a modern Sears and Roebuck? Or JC Penny?
Yes, an all-singing, all-dancing, electric-Apple mall may sound like a scene from Back to the Future, but it is also the kind of crazy idea that Steve Jobs had, when he began planning a retail store with Ron Johnson, as industry successes like Gateway were flailing and dying.
It's clear that Johnson has Apple in his DNA, he hired Apple execs to come with him to JC Penny. There's nothing like coming home.
Of course, it's hard to be a link in the chain when you've been the Boss. A lot of people (who've never achieved much themselves) will call him a failure and a coward for returning.
To hell with that. To quote T.H. White, "The bravest people are the ones that don't mind looking like cowards."
Update: Apparently, I'm not the only one that thinks this is a great idea.