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It's been over a year since JCPenney removed former CEO Ron Johnson and his rebel ideas from the boardroom, but the tales of woe from his days with the company (and the weird, awkward things the brand continues to do) never cease to amaze. Johnson recently spoke out about the whole affair in front of a class of Stanford Business grad students.
"I don't think of myself as an arrogant person," Johnson told the class. "I think of myself as confident. I concluded, which in hindsight was an error, that the best way to make a move was to jumpstart the change. In hindsight, the biggest mistake was that we went way too fast. Way too fast for our board, way too fast for our customers, way too fast for employees, way too fast for shareholders."
When Johnson was asked about the actual firing, he was quick to slam the media and set the record straight. "You really can't believe what you read," Johnson said. "That was my big lesson from JCPenney. I resigned three times. 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 specified that he made the choice to announce that he had been let go, rather then just saying that he was no longer with the board. "But I made the choice because it was very painful, it was painful for the board, painful for our employees," Johnson said. "And I said 'Look, we're at a point—it's been one year of transformation. If you wanna go back to the old business model, the sooner you do that the better."
He warned the board members to either let him go now or prepare to stick it out through whatever may come. "And I remember telling the board it's gonna get worse because all the focus was on me as the CEO," Johnson told the class. "After awhile they are going to say 'why is the board sticking behind this guy when the business is tough?' And I said, 'I want you to think that through now, because I don't want it to be three months or six months when we're going ahead and then you decide you can't handle the change.'"
But it's all good now, because in the end Johnson realized he was just a terrible fit for JCPenney. "I'm a creative person, here's a company that isn't uber-creative," Johnson said. "I believe in change, this company is much more comfortable, like many people are, with the status quo. So, it's really important when you pick a job or company, to really focus on the fit. [...] So it's kind of a relief to get away from that, quite frankly, because it was hard and it wasn't as fulfilling as you'd hope."
· Ron Johnson: "It's Not About Speed to Market. It's Really About Doing Your Level Best." [Stanford Business]
· JCPenney Debuts Awkward New Tag Line During the Olympics [Racked]
· JCPenney's Twitter Wasn't Drunk, Just Wearing Mittens [Racked]