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Summary:

Ron Johnson, former retail chief of Apple was hired by JC Penney as a man with the silver bullet. Both didn’t realize: winning comes from team (and timing).

Team chart

The JC Penney board was looking for a silver bullet. They thought former Apple retail leader Ron Johnson had one. Turns out the guns were empty and a couple of years later, he has been handed his walking papers.

His firing from JC Penney is a good reminder that just because an executive is part of a winning team doesn’t mean an individual was the sole reason that team kept winning. Instead, it is the whole team effort that keeps the winning streak intact. (And more importantly, there is this little thing called luck and timing.)

A lot of people came together at Apple at precisely the right time and created magic. Similar plot lines unfolded at Google and then at Facebook. It happened at Microsoft and Sun. It is a story that repeats itself, and yet we forget about these magical confluences of luck and talent, and tend to believe in the power of one.

Johnson was awesome as Apple’s retail chief because he had a great product, great brand, great supply chain and most importantly a great think tank that wanted to change retail. He failed at JC Penney because he had none of those things. He was trying to rework a brand and change the culture at a company which had little or no time for his way of doing things.

Maybe he should come back to Cupertino.

Update: I had originally incorrectly spelt JC Penney as JC Penny. The error is regretted. 

  1. This is the Robert McNamara problem all over again.

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  2. I think you want to say “magic bullet.” Silver bullets are both what kill werewolves and what The Lone Ranger uses.

    The Magic Bullet is a term from a German immunologist in the early 1900′s (also what the idiotic Arlen Spector said got Kennedy and Connally) and is the context you are looking for.

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  3. Ron the Epic Retail Failure Monday, April 8, 2013

    If Apple wants moRon back – TAKE HIM! Apple was all he ever talked about… Steve Jobs being a not distant second. So he’s all yours Cupertino – and we hope to never see him around here ever again.

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  4. treetopflyer Tuesday, April 9, 2013

    You’ve got to risk big, to win big. I give the guy credit for having the nads to take the risk…and I suspect he’s smarter and savvier because of it.

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  5. spelt is a grain.

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  6. Apple Retail ain’t “real” retail which is all about low margins, thousands of cut-throat competitors, hundreds of suppliers to manage with their thousands of ever-changing product life-cycles, and low paid and unmotivated staff. And that’s before you even get to address the sexy buzz terms like “new concept” or “redefine the brand”. Many of us knew it was going to fail as soon as his appointment was announced.

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  7. Maurice Sharp Saturday, April 13, 2013

    Luck? I am not convinced. Timing, marketplace concerns (expressed or invented), marketplace listening, story invented addressing concerns and told into that listening, AND team to do this. That I think is “Luck.”

    Maurice

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