Apple Store Seeks New Leader

Discussion
Aug 04, 2011

Ever since it was announced in June that Ron Johnson was leaving Apple to take the helm of J.C. Penney, there has been a lot of talk about whether or not he would help to reinvent the department store. Many seem quite optimistic, at the very least, in Mr. Johnson’s ability to get Penney turned around, even if he falls short of achieving revolutionary changes at the chain. Eighty-five percent of respondents to a RetailWire poll thought he would have a very (50 percent) or somewhat positive effect (35 percent) on Penney’s performance.

With all the hoopla surrounding Penney, the other side of the coin is the question of what Mr. Johnson’s departure means for Apple’s retail business.

A report on The Wall Street Journal site, citing sources familiar with the situation, said Apple has taken the "unusual" step of hiring an international search firm to find a new leader.

The Journal piece speculated that Apple may be looking for an executive from outside the U.S. as the company focuses more of its attention on expanding overseas. Apple currently has stores in 10 countries outside the U.S. representing roughly 30 percent of its total units, according to Mac Rumors.

Some of the speculation is that Apple may be looking for an executive familiar with Asian markets. The chain is looking to aggressively expand in the region and plans to open 25 new stores in China alone over the next two years.

Discussion Questions: What direction would you be taking if you were looking for a replacement for Ron Johnson at Apple? How important, for example, do you think international retailing experience is for the new leader of Apple’s retail business?

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13 Comments on "Apple Store Seeks New Leader"


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Doug Stephens
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Doug Stephens
9 years 9 months ago

The natural tendency here will be to assume that an executive with Asian experience is being sought, solely to help Apple expand in Asia. I think this is likely only half the story. The truth is that someone with experience in Asia will be infinitely more in tune with trends like in-store mobile experiences, near field communication, Quick Response code usage, mobile payment, augmented reality etc. — many of the mobile technology trends we (in N. America) are only now just talking about, having been around and in use in Asia for years. Seeking a store leader with experience in Asia is as much a benefit to the North American business as it is about growth in China.

Charlie Moro
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Charlie Moro
9 years 9 months ago

Keeping in mind another report from last week that Apple has more cash on hand than the US Government, it would make perfect sense to find a replacement with a broad worldview, experience, and language skills that can expand the Apple brand across the globe. Seems like the prudent, smart goal on their part is to explore outside the United States, and maybe even beyond the traditional retail experience.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

First you’ve got to decide if you’re hiring for creativity, or control. IBM’s last Global CEO Study of 1,541 CEOs and senior leaders concluded that ‘creativity’ is the most desirable attribute of tomorrow’s leader. The problem of course is that people hired for their creativity are usually fired for the same reason. The pull of the status quo is almost impossible to break, even in Apple.

So does the head person need to come out of retail tradition? Heck no. Put those people with mechanistic expertise under him or her.

In his remarkable book “Always Change a Winning Team,” Dr. Peter Robertson makes the point that organizations tend to hire leaders for the stage of development the business is currently in. What they should be doing, Robertson asserts, is hiring for the stage of development that is coming. The hard to accept point is that the leader who got you ‘here’ is rarely the leader who will take you ‘there’.

Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Apple may feel that its business is at a global “tipping point” requiring an executive with international expertise. However, I’m surprised that the search isn’t starting inside the company. It’s vital that somebody running the retail operations “gets” the Apple culture of innovation and works as hard as Ron Johnson did to make the stores a branding tool for the company, not just a place to sell goods. If Apple doesn’t have somebody in position to advance, shame on them especially after years of speculation about Mr. Johnson taking another job in retail.

Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

First of all, what a daunting, un-enviable task. But in any case, my answer would always be to look internally first. The concept we employ here is that you should always be grooming a “mini-me” if you’re in a leadership position. There is nothing more motivating than knowing you always have a shot at your boss’ job, no matter what the case. And conversely, there’s nothing more de-motivating than having to train outsiders that get your dream job.

Re: INTL experience; I don’t think it needs to be mandatory. In today’s business world, everyone has SOME international experience. Combine previously learned with what the crack Apple team in place already knows and I believe they will be just fine. No INTL experience comes sans surprises or hard-knocks learning, but if anyone can master that, it’s the A team.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Doug is right. Apple will want to retain someone who has experience with the most innovative technologies in use around the globe, which probably means that they’ll take a pass on US retailers. The new hire will have an unprecedented opportunity to influence the store experience.

Bill Emerson
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Bill Emerson
9 years 9 months ago

At $2700 sales per square foot, I’d be looking for someone who would swear not to change anything.

While there is obviously room for lots more growth here in the US, the international market, specifically China and India are where the money and the economic growth is going to come from. Having a leader with experience in one or both of these markets is very smart.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

It is my experience that international executives are much more strategic and much more patient than U.S. executives. While I can’t comment on international retail executives, U.S. retail executives have certainly proved themselves to be poor in execution and weak in strategy. That alone would encourage me to look outside.

Apple itself is not a typical American company. Apple is the computer company that saw an opportunity in downloading music while the music industry missed it entirely. Apple is very strategic in its thinking. It is not bounded by convention. It is not focused on this month’s earnings. It is focused on tomorrow as should its new Apple Store head.

Ed Dennis
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Ed Dennis
9 years 9 months ago

I would look everywhere then ask myself why hire outside the company. Johnson gets too much credit. Steve Jobs was/is the driver of the retail operation. The products created the retail demand and also create the employee enthusiasm. Frankly, almost anyone internally experienced at Apple could run retail. When you bring in an outsider you get two things: 1. Someone who doesn’t know the culture and 2. Someone who will insist on changing things. It’s hard to improve on perfection without screwing it up. If you want to make changes let the employees tell you how to make things better.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
9 years 9 months ago
One of Apple’s most significant challenges in coming months will be identifying executives who can ascend and maintain Apple’s brand leadership and vision when the singular force of Steve Jobs isn’t there to drive it. A vision embodied by one will transition to a vision driven by many and Apple’s new retail chief could be seen as the first major hire in that direction. It’s no secret that Apple is anxious to expand its retail footprint in Asia and by all accounts, consumers across Asia are just as anxious to snap up Apple products wherever they can, so looking for a new retail chief who has experience tapping into that market is a given. His or her ability to translate Apple’s brand and culture (and yes, globally) will be just as important as a passion for retailing…possibly more so. Apple is a brand, not a manufacturer, and the Chinese market in particular is transitioning from a manufacturing-based economy to one that is consumer and brand-based. Global retail rock star is a plus but global brand… Read more »
Gordon Arnold
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

The global economy is the only one worth being in for anyone with an eye to the future stability of a corporation. Thanks to FedEx, UPS, and the internet, anyone can play and win. And we are at the beginning of this exciting opportunity. Apple is very much on the right course with this action.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
9 years 9 months ago

The driver behind Apple’s retail success has been their extraordinary product innovation. This is not to denigrate the leadership at the stores, because their execution is exceptional. It seems to me the critical skill set to lead the stores forward is the ability to sustain and extend their state-of-the-art execution as they develop new technologies and products, and enter new markets.

Mike McGettigan
Guest
Mike McGettigan
9 years 9 months ago

I think retail experience would be a must in the new leader of Apple stores. Where I work we have a retail GM and our business is wholesale production and delivery. I’ll just say, not his strong suit.

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