4. Ron Johnson

CEO of JCPenney, How To Think About The Competition

4. Ron Johnson

The former Apple Store impresario took over the 110-year-old discounter late last year, with the goal of transforming it into a merchant prince once more. He has already changed the branding, marketing, and pricing but says his real efforts are reshaping the company’s mind-set:


“Our number-one competitor is ourselves. It’s our ability to change. And the way you unlock potential is to find a new way to compete, ideally in a way that’s never been done before, so it’s seen as new. For decades, department stores were organized to have a center core of cosmetics, jewelry, and women’s handbags. We’re going to have something new called Town Square. It’s a series of 80 to 100 shops. Department stores have been limited intellectually by their traditional categories of home and apparel. We can put in whatever shops we want. It liberates you to do what’s relevant to people in their lives.

“Our number-two competitor is everyone else.”


  • 2000

    Becomes SVP of retail at Apple with no prior experience in store design, real estate, or employee training; conceives vision for Apple retail stores and Genius Bar

  • 2011

    Johnson becomes CEO of JC Penney after 11 years at Apple

  • Receives bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University and MBA from Harvard Business School

  • Built Apple store juggernaut from scratch with Steve Jobs. Innovations to the retail experience: Genius Bar where consumers can learn about products for free, roaming sales reps armed with iPhones as mobile checkout devices, salespeople don’t get commissions. All this adds up to: higher annual retail sales per square foot in brick and mortar retail space than Tiffany or Coach. (Approximately $4,406). According to The New Rules of Retail, Apple grew faster than any other retailer in history.