Ron Johnson: JCPenney Was My Biggest Mistake

Ron Johnson told Shoptalk attendees in Las Vegas today that the biggest mistake he made in his professional career was going to work as CEO of JCPenney.

“It was a really bad decision for everybody,” Johnson said during a keynote interview with CNBC retail reporter Courtney Reagan. “But it was incredibly humbling. And if I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t be here now.”

That “here” is retail technology startup Enjoy, where he is the CEO and founder. Founded in 2014, Enjoy’s mission is to help people get more out of the technology they purchase from them. Customers buy electronics from Enjoy, and the customer gets free delivery and setup of the product.

And while Johnson spoke enthusiastically about Enjoy, he seemed to lay the blame for JCPenney’s collapse during his CEO tenure on everybody but himself.

“I’m confident that if we would have had more time to turn it around, instead of just doing a u-turn and going back to the way they were selling to people who just aren’t buying, we’d have turned it around,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that they went too fast with the changes he and his team implemented. That included an overhaul of the company culture, a new company logo, and end to coupons, lower price points to get customers in the door, and the addition of brand stores within the stores.

When hired, Johnson said JCPenney customers needed to shop just like They do at Apple Store, where he was once the right-hand man to Steve Jobs.

“I was told they wanted to change, but they really didn’t,” Johnson said.

In Johnson’s first year as JCP’s head, the company’s total sales dropped 24.8% and its ecommerce sales decreased 33%.

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