25178 Fri, 06/22/2012 - 11:47am
The news of Michael Francis’ sudden departure from J.C. Penney shows that the worries over the retailer’s new strategies have spread to its corporate headquarters.
Previously, the public conniptions over Penney’s revamp of its business had come mostly from outsiders—financial analysts and TV business-channel pundits. Even though it was clear that these moves would take time before showing fruit, this group seized on any news about the new look as evidence that it was or wasn’t working. Through it all, CEO Ron Johnson preached patience, even saying that J.C. Penney’s sales might go down before the new strategies pushed them up again.
Then came Penney’s first-quarter results, with a $163 million net loss, a 20.1 percent drop in net sales and an 18.9 percent plummet in same-store sales. This news was followed by Johnson’s frank admission that the company hadn’t done a good job in communicating the new pricing to shoppers.
Now Francis is gone.
Any company that embarks on a face-changing strategy—especially one of the extent of J.C. Penney’s, which involves a total evolution of the way it sells merchandise—is going to experience a case or three or four of the wobbles as the transformation moves along. When one of those wobbles results in the departure of a top-level executive, however, a whole new set of troubles comes to the fore.
Whether it was Francis who quit on his own or was asked to quit, it appears that somebody in Plano hit the panic button. And they may have acted too soon, according to some observers. In a research note issued earlier this week, analysts with Barclays Equity Research said, “What is concerning to us is that we have always thought (the new) strategy was going to take time to successfully implement long term, and management does not seem to have the patience, commitment or conviction to wait it out, as promised, and let the marketing begin to resonate.”
The Barclays note shows that new questions, in addition to whether the strategies will work, have emerged. Are Johnson and the rest of J.C. Penney’s management capable of keeping things calm and on course in what could turn into more tough times ahead?
And has Johnson begun to wish he were still selling iPods?—David Gill