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Ron Johnson: ‘I was a terrible fit for J.C. Penney’


New York -- Ron Johnson, who has been keeping a relatively low profile since he was ousted from J.C. Penney in April 2013, took to the podium in May, as a guest lecturer at Stanford University. Johnson, a graduate of Stanford and a member of its board, was a guest speaker at the university's View From the Top series, where he discussed with Stanford Graduate School of Business students Penney, Apple and Target and the lessons learned over his career in retail.

Looking back on his time at Penney, Johnson believes it was the pace of his transformation plan, as opposed to the plan itself, that was wrong. It was too fast for a company as traditional as Penney.

“Most of the things I’d done at Apple and Target worked and so you think, well, this will work too. And the reality is, you know, we moved too quickly. It was too fast for the board, the customers, employees, and shareholders,” he said.

Johnson told the students he asked to resign from Penney three times.

"I resigned three times," he said. "In February I offered to resign, in March I offered to resign, and finally in April, the board chair said 'Ron, we're going to accept your resignation.'"

Johnson said he ultimately came to the conclusion that Penney was not the right place for him.

“It was disappointing because I really believed we would make it work, but it was a relief because the lesson I learned is I was a terrible fit for J.C. Penney,’’ he said. “I'm a creative person, here's a company that isn't uber-creative. I believe in change, this company’s much more comfortable, like many people are, with the status quo.”

Click here to see the video of Johnson’s Q&A at Stanford.

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