Johnson, who formerly headed Apple's wildly successful retail operations, was brought on by J.C. Penney in November 2011 in a bid to boost lagging sales, and he quickly made a number of radical changes to the century-old retailer.
The everpresent sales and coupons were scrapped in favor of a "fair and square pricing" scheme. He brought in fresh new apparel lines and used a "store-in-store" concept to turn the sales floor into a collection of branded boutiques. He armed salespeople with mobile checkout devices, another Apple Store innovation. And he touted the changes with major ad buys, including spots with celebrity spokeswoman Ellen DeGeneres.
But the changes were rejected by many J.C. Penney shoppers. The pricing scheme was abandoned after a year, with Johnson acknowledging that it was a "big mistake." We've heard from dozens of former J.C. Penney customers who said they no longer like the clothes they find at the store. And one sales associate told us that the mobile checkout devices frequently fail and make things less convenient for customers.
The company went from bad to worse as Johnson's grand experiment played out. Sales dropped a whopping 25 percent in his first year as CEO. Same-store sales were down 32 percent in the fourth quarter. As the share price dropped like a rock -- it's lost more than half its value in the last year -- big investors fled for the exits. And while Johnson's strategy had its defenders, the company was burning through a whole lot of cash making it a reality.
Calls for Johnson's ouster grew ever louder as quarter after quarter of dismal results rolled in, and at the beginning of the year we named him one of the CEOs most likely to lose their jobs in 2013. That prediction -- which we were by no means alone in making -- has now come true.
J.C. Penney stock is already up in after-hours trading on the news of Johnson's firing.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.