J.C. Penney: A National Disgrace

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Maybe I live in an alternate universe. But I don't think so. I stopped being the guy who calls everybody else crazy, himself sane and spews bitterness at the world long ago. That's part of the reason I can't seem to figure out why I care so much about something I really shouldn't care about.

What's it matter to me if JC Penney and Best Buy embarrass themselves and manage to perpetuate the death spiral of an entire industry? Why does it bug me that JCP hires as CEO and BBY appoints to its board the folks who napped under their desks while Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos had his way with them?

For more than a year, I have hounded JCP and BBY. I have been harsh. No doubt. But, frankly, I'm tired of haters misdirecting anger at me for calling it as I see it.

Have the people who think I should give Ron Johnson and JCP, as well as the good old boys at BBY, the benefit of the doubt heard from the rank and file at either company? Have they done even the least bit of digging in the corporate halls of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Plano, Texas? If they had they would know that, while some employees at JC Penney and Best Buy disagree with the bearishness -- some even "hate" me for it -- other past and present employees nod in the affirmative: He's saying what I feel and what I wish I could say publicly.


Not to go all melodramatic on you, but futures hang in the balance here. Of the brick-and-mortar retail space. And the livelihoods of quite a few people inside and outside of these companies.

As Yahoo! Finance's Jeff Macke tweeted Tuesday:

Of course Johnson walks away loaded.

It is maddening. Companies such as JC Penney should be ashamed of themselves.

As I explained on CNBC and CNN Tuesday, Ron Johnson sold us all a bill of goods. He spun himself as something he's not -- a visionary. There's no doubt he believed his own hype, but it's a much better quality, for yourself and those around you, to know your limitations.

Ron Johnson might be a good manager. He implemented and executed Steve Jobs's vision at Apple like a good MBA. The vision, however, was not his. As such, he had no business being CEO at a company that requires a visionary. Neither does Mike Ullman. So, as Macke alluded to, nobody over there gets it.


Johnson brought a deadly mix of egomania and delusion to the job, overpaid by a board he -- even if innocently -- duped. And now the Board ousts him to (re)bring in another person clearly not cut out for the task at hand.

As a nation, we're proud of Apple and other tech names. Even tech underachievers put JCP to shame. We should be extra proud of Howard Schultz and his team at Starbucks . Yet, you never hear any of the suits and dresses on JCP and BBY Boards talking about what has happened over the years at Starbucks?

Are they too dense and out of touch to see the connection?

To see a company that has harnessed everything from daily habit to loyalty to mobile and digital to create a user experience that transcends coffee.

Starbucks could -- all else equal -- afford to stand still for a little while. It could get by pulling the same tricks out of the same dead and tired bag -- a la JCP and BBY with merchandising overhauls, enhanced customer service, stores within stores and odd tweaks on the meaning of the word "sale" -- but it doesn't. It walks and talks and acts like a tech company. It pushes the envelope on innovation.

And, along with Apple and Amazon and a handful other names, it's one of the companies America can truly be proud of.

It was one thing to watch newspapers collapse at the hands of the Web and social media, but at least old guard publishers have managed to stay in the game at varying degrees. The game just changed; they hung on tight enough so it did not leave them completely in the dust.

But that's not the case with the department store. Ron Johnson walks away at JCP. The board makes another bonehead move. More people will lose jobs. The right ones -- young, tech-minded visionaries -- will probably not get hired to influential slots. And an American institution will wither away because of a lack of visionary and revolutionary will on the part of boards of directors and management teams that should have been put out to pasture long ago.

I know it shouldn't, but the whole sordid tale makes me angry.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

It's Official: Action Alerts PLUS beats the S&P 500 with Dividends Reinvested! Cramer and Link were up 16.72% in 2012. Were you? See what they are trading for 14-days FREE.

View Comments (273)