J.C. Penney Hired the Wrong Therapist to Ease Stress After CEO's Ouster

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How bad was Ron Johnson's tenure as CEO of J.C. Penney? So bad, the company reportedly needed to bring in an organizational therapist in the aftermath of Johnson's firing. And like many of the moves that the retailer has made in the last couple of years, this one managed to backfire -- spectacularly.

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 03:  Honoree Liz Sweney, EVP, Senior General Merchandise Manager attends the 5th Annual Fashion Delivers Gala at The Waldorf Astoria on November 3, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Charles Eshelman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Liz Sweney
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Buzzfeed reports that J.C. Penney executive Liz Sweney (right) brought in the therapist to address employees at an internal meeting last month. According to Buzzfeed's sources, Sweney and the therapist compared Johnson's tenure to a bomb going off. They also screened "Boatlift," a short film about the sea evacuation of lower Manhattan on 9/11, as a way of impressing upon employees the importance of independent leadership in the post-Johnson era.

The references to bombs and 9/11 came just weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing, and Buzzfeed reports that many employees came away offended. In a sense, it was a perfect coda to Johnson's disastrous tenure: They were trying to make things better, but wound up making things worse.

While the content of the meeting was clearly misguided, it's not uncommon for companies to bring in therapists in the wake of executive shake-ups. And last month we shared the story of a therapist who works with London bankers dealing with the shame and stress of working in investment banking.

Yes, bankers and executives need therapy, too. But next time J.C. Penney wants to soothe its stressed-out management team, might we suggest an afternoon of yoga or meditation. Or, at the very least, a therapist who won't try to compare getting rid of coupons to terrorism.




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