As JC Penney and Ron Johnson just learned, it is always about the team

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. 

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