Happy Anniversary! Now get real or get lost…

A media professional, who I have a great deal of respect for, recently urged me to read as much of Forbes.com as I could. Thanks to this wonderful advice, I came across “5 Reasons Why J.C.Penney’s Ron Johnson Will Reinvent Retail….Again” –an opinion piece the author will undoubtedly follow-up with “Why I Want Alex Rodriguez Batting Clean Up For My Team in The Post-Season!
Ron Johnson has now been running J.C. Penney for almost one year. His track record is defined by (1)  quarterly losses, (2) 25% decline in the share price, and (3) wild shifts in strategic plans. Can we attribute this track record solely to Mr Johnson, or might we recognize that large companies in complex businesses during an era of rapid change are neither saved nor screwed by one heroic figure? Yet it seems as if everyone involved, from the business press to boards of directors, insists on an oversimplified hyperbole with just about everything.

Clearly, Mr Johnson has an incredible track record of success most recently and notably at Apple where he last reinvented retail. Or was the success due to Apple reinventing product design?  Or Steve Jobs reinventing the world?  I’ve lost track of all the reinventing Apple is responsible for, yet  in my view their greatest achievement is that Apple continues to excel a year after Mr Jobs’ death and Mr Johnson’s leaving for J.C. Penney. Perhaps the real story at Apple wasn’t reinvention, but something far more basic: sustained achievement by a company dedicated to sound fundamentals in everything from organizational structure to product performance.

Regardless of the field, successful people and organizations (business or athletics) have one thing in common:  they are fundamentally sound and the best of them fundamentally superior. Strong fundamentals create the basis for continuously managing to higher standards and performance. A track record of success is more like incremental advancement than reinvention. Unfortunately, our short-term society has little interest in something as boring as fundamentals!
Ron Johnson has already enjoyed the greatest success he will ever know at J.C. Penney all by himself. If he’s able to build an organization that can actually perform on the most basic levels then he might be able to truly turn J.C. Penney around. Having worked with  J.C. Penney as both a supplier and customer, in my opinion, instilling these fundamentals won’t be easy. I can’t think of any company (in any industry) with a culture as consistently lousy the one as I’ve seen out of J.C. Penney. And if Mr Johnson approaches his job the way the press claims he does then his J.C. Penney tenure will be painfully short, unhappy and expensive for all stakeholders. 
Let’s skip the genius talk and reinvention nonsense and get real about it: J.C. Penney’s problems are so entrenched that one person can’t solve them and if you really believe something can be reborn or reinvented without proper fundamentals, then as a Yankees fan, I’d also like to sell you a superstar 38 year old 3rd basemen who can’t catch up to a fastball!
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