Apple’s former Retail chief Ron Johnson was not a good student at Stanford

Ron Johnson and Steve Jobs at Fifth Avenue Store opening 002

Apple’s original Senior Vice President of Retail quit his job at Apple last year for a CEO position with J.C.Penney, only to be fired rather infamously after revenues dropped sharply following his attempts to apply sprinkles of Apple magic and overhaul the retailer’s shopping experience.

Johnson recently participated in View From the Top Talk at Stanford Graduate School of Business and shared a few anecdotes from his time at Apple while revealing that he “was not a good student” at Stanford.

I’ve embedded the video right after the break…

The video, posted a month ago, was highlighted earlier today by Gary Allen, who runs IFOAppleStore, a website dedicated to following Apple’s retail expansion the world over.

The clip runs 50 minutes and 56 seconds long and is well worth the time if you’re interested in learning more about Johnson’s Apple experience.

Here it is.

A few choice quotes.

Johnson says that even though everyone thinks they innovate, most of the time it’s just incremental improvements.

“To win in business, you have to let the imagination run,” he said during his conversation with GSB student Amanda Facelle.

On working with Steve:

When I started working with him he said, ‘Ron If you don’t mind, I really want to not be an employee – I want to be a friend’. He had this intense way of developing these close relationships and the first time we met we talked for three hours…

“The most misunderstood thing about Steve,” said Jonhson, “is that he’s the best delegator I’ve ever met.” 

On launching the Apple Stores:

We were launching the stores and one day he came up with the idea of the digital hub. The next week we were going to our weekly store meeting, we were designing the store.

I said, ‘Steve I’ve been thinking and I think the store is organized all wrong. We’ve organized it like a retail store around products. The store should be organized on music and movies and things you do’.

On the Apple Retail Store design:

It was a pure play. There was really no compromise on any of the intuition. And I think that’s how the Apple stores connected (with visitors). Even today, people go to the stores just to go. They don’t go to buy. There are so many reasons to come.

On Apple’s retail experience:

When we launched the Apple Stores, guess what percent of people had broadband or high speed Internet in the United States? Three percent. No one had ever seen a high-speed Internet.

I said, ‘Steve this is going to make Apple computers seem really good because they are going to come try the Internet and they’ll think they are fast’. So we created a place for communities to form where people could check their email and experience the Mac.

Johnson also revealed he wasn’t a good student at Stanford and shared the biggest life lesson he learned from Steve Jobs: “You have to be willing to start again.”