NEW YORK (AP) — J.C. Penney is hoping its former CEO can revive the retailer after a risky turnaround strategy backfired and led to massive losses and steep sales declines.
The company's board of directors ousted CEO Ron Johnson after only 17 months on the job. The department store chain said late Monday, in a statement, that it has rehired Johnson's predecessor, Mike Ullman, 66. Ullman was CEO of the department store chain for seven years until November 2011.
The announcement came after a growing chorus of critics including a former Penney CEO, Allen Questrom, called for Johnson's resignation as they lost faith in an aggressive overhaul that included getting rid of most discounts in favor of everyday low prices and bringing in new brands.
The biggest blow came Friday from Ullman's strongest supporter, activist investor and board member Bill Ackman. Ackman had pushed the board in the summer of 2011 to hire Johnson to shake up the dowdy image of the retailer. Ackman, whose company Pershing Square Capital Management is Penney's biggest shareholder, reportedly told investors that Penney's execution "has been something very close to a disaster."
On Saturday, Ullman received a phone call from Penney Chairman Thomas Engibous asking him to take back his old job, according to Penney spokeswoman Kate Coultas. The board met Monday and decided to fire Johnson.
Neither Johnson nor Ullman was available for an interview.
The early investor reaction to the shake-up was negative. J.C. Penney shares tumbled $1.39, or 8.8 percent, to $14.48 in trading about two hours before the market opening on Tuesday.
Until early last week, some analysts thought the board would give Johnson, a former Apple Inc. and Target Corp. executive, until later this year to reverse the sales slide. A key element of Johnson's strategy was opening "mini-shops" in Penney stores featuring hot brands to help turn around the business. They began opening last year and had been faring better than the rest of the store.