Penney Names Target’s Francis as President

Discussion
Oct 04, 2011
George Anderson

When J.C. Penney hired incoming CEO Ron Johnson away from Apple, people began immediately talking about him reinventing the department store experience. Now, with Mr. Johnson’s first major decision, at least one that is publicly known, he doesn’t appear as though he is looking to tone down anyone’s expectations.

Yesterday, the chain announced it had hired Michael Francis, former chief marketing officer for Target and the person the company put in charge of entering the Canadian market, as president. In his new role, Mr. Francis will be responsible for marketing, merchandising, planning and allocation, product development and sourcing at Penney.

"I am thrilled to welcome Michael to our team," said Mr. Johnson, in a press release. "He is an extremely talented executive with the vision and courage to re-imagine the department store experience. His ability to innovate and deep understanding of the industry will be invaluable as we set out to transform J.C. Penney into America’s favorite store."

Mr. Francis said, "This is a tremendous opportunity for me to get back to department store retail. I began my career working on the sales floor of the State Street Marshall Field’s in Chicago. It was there where my passion for retail began and my understanding of the power and potential of the department store was formed. I am delighted to join J.C. Penney and work with Ron and the talented J.C. Penney team to help accelerate the momentum already taking place."

According to a Bloomberg News report, hiring Mr. Franics may mean that Penney has given up its attempts to capture more upscale shoppers and will direct its energies to becoming a discount shopping destination in malls.

Bernard Sosnick, an analyst at Gilford Securities, told Bloomberg, "That seems to be a much more effective approach than what they’ve been doing."

Discussion Question: What do you think the hiring of Michael Francis means for J.C. Penney?

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14 Comments on "Penney Names Target’s Francis as President"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

It’s obviously too early too tell but former Target executives have a habit of trying to transfer the Target model wherever they go.

So, it seems likely that we may see the emergence of a “hipper” J.C. Penney, one offering exclusive, discount designer lines and less tied to the apparently unshakable frumpy JCP legacy.

The real question isn’t what Francis will try, it’s what could possibly work.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
9 years 7 months ago

Upscale shoppers = bigger profit margins. As for being a discount destination, Penneys is now wading into a crowded pond. The Penneys brand has a lot of equity behind it and hopefully they will try do something unique with it as opposed to being just another discount retailer. I’ve seen this over and over again where executives have success at their previous company and try to emulate (read: copy) what they did before. Penneys is not Target and making Penneys into Target will simply create another Target. I hope that there is something else in the works for them because I would hate to see a great great brand like JCP disappear into the retail landscape like so many other brands have.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 7 months ago

J.C. Penney will benefit from hiring Michael Francis. Unfortunately, Target can ill afford to lose him. This hiring will further amplify the importance of hiring Ron Johnson from Apple a while back. Having top execs from both Apple and Target is a coup for J.C. Penney and the emergence of a livelier and more contemporary J.C. Penney.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

The fact that Mr. Francis and Mr. Johnson worked together before makes me think that they have some kind of a dynamic duo plan up their sleeves. I just hope it isn’t a series of planned scarcity designer collections!

Now, if only Target would bring in a proper techy marketer (you know, someone like Ron Johnson) to balance things out and connect all of those unconnected touch points — great timing in the wake of the website internalization. A girl can dream!

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
9 years 7 months ago

If I had to guess, I’d say the Francis appointment signifies a clear emphasis on unique product lines. It’s what made Target successful. I’d describe the strategy as fun and exciting products underpinned by a differentiated store and online experience. This is where they can be successful.

Anne Howe
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

I think Michael Francis will give himself and JCP a chance to make a new statement in merchandising and shopping. I hope he goes bold and is willing to shake the frumpiness out of JCP without trying to turn it into Target. We love Target for what it is. Now give us a different reason to love good old JCP.

Can he pull off a “Missoni” with flawless execution? Time will tell.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

This is a major step by Mr. Johnson in hiring Mr. Francis. It shows he is intent in remaking Penneys into a major first line player in the retail market again. It has been a long time since Penneys actually competed strongly with other big box retailers. Let the games begin.

Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

I agree with Gene that this looks like a good hire on top of Ron Johnson’s appointment. Certainly some fresh outside perspective from two successful (and very different) companies can only help JCPenney. Given Mr. Francis’s more recent focus on marketing, I hope he is prepared to do some “heavy lifting” on the merchandising end of the business. JCP doesn’t need more brands (exclusive or otherwise), it needs fewer brands…and I hope Mr. Francis is prepared to take a hatchet to Penneys’ over-assortment.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Ron Johnson has made a tremendously shrewd move in bringing Michael Francis into the fold. Michael is one of those leaders who has experienced the “big picture” view from the consumers’ position. He knows the details — or works to capture a better understanding of them — but he develops people and permits them to “run their own portion of the ship.”

J.C. Penney will benefit from having a prudent, risk-oriented leader like Michael Francis on board. Consumers are going to be winners here, as the stores will have a marketing, merchandising, planning head who will deliver successful programs with which to work.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Good move for what’s been a tired J.C. Penney; it needs the revamping that Francis can help bring. This is tough on Target, which, despite the blip on its website crashing, has been getting it back together.

Brian Kelly
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Johnson/Apple is consumer centric. Francis/Target is consumer centric. Neither are merchant nor operator.

This is going to be awesome to watch.

Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

First thing that strikes me, especially when coupled with the hiring of Ron Johnson, is: these guys are serious about change. I am very excited to see what they can or can’t accomplish with this iconic brand. Because, after all, if they can really affect this business and the perception of a stagnant brand, that would be VERY good news (or a message) to Sears and others caught in the middle. All the best!

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

While Francis and Johnson worked together at Target, making JCPenney into a type of “hip” Target is not a viable solution. The question is, can the two design a distinctive, unique shopping experience at JCPenney that creates a unique niche in the retail “department store” space AND transform an existing company rather than create the idea from scratch?

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

I had expected a JCP question, but not this one: what I has expected was a question about the brouhaha surrounding the Phoebe Cates commercial, and what it said about Johnson’s new direction (though the development of the ad likely preceded his arrival). So back to the question that actually was asked: I think hiring a retailer is a logical move (whereas hiring someone like, say , Terry Francona, might have been a little too outside-the-box…Apple’s reputation for it notwithstanding); that it is a retailer from a well regarded company like Target, is all the better. What it actually says about Penneys’ intentions, I don’t know (and apparently neither does anybody else, judging from the diversity of the comments offered here).

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