Consumer Nation

Chief’s Silicon Valley Stardom Quickly Clashed at JC Penney

Stephanie Clifford
Ron Johnson
Andrew Burton | Reuters

Maybe it was the ice sculptures. Or the order to stock slim, European-style men's suits. Or the swagger of a protégé of the mighty Steve Jobs.

From the moment Ronald B. Johnson arrived at the Plano, Tex., headquarters of J.C. Penney, some there believed he would not last long. On Monday, the doubters were proved right. After a tumultuous 17 months as chief executive of Penney, Mr. Johnson was pushed out.

He blew into Plano a star, a man who helped build the juggernaut Apple stores. But his Silicon Valley ways—evident from a showy party in early 2012 that he threw to celebrate himself and his plans, replete with a light show, fake snow and flowing liquor—jangled from the start.

His pedigree seemed impeccable. His B.A. from Stanford, M.B.A. from Harvard, years building Target and then, his time with Mr. Jobs. But it all ended on Monday when the board voted to replace him with his predecessor, Myron E. Ullman III, a move seen as a stopgap measure that did not instill confidence in the 111-year-old retailer's future.

Shares plunged by more than 12 percent on Tuesday as investors and analysts speculated whether the company could halt its current sales collapse or even avoid a takeover. (For the latest stock price click here.)