- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - J.C. Penney Co. is looking to bite into the magic of Apple.

The mid-brow department store chain has named Ron Johnson, who pioneered Apple Inc.’s retail stores, its next CEO. He will succeed Myron Ullman III in November, the retailer said Tuesday.

During his 11 years at Apple, Johnson led Apple’s retail stores and has been credited with developing the popular Genius Bar, where customers can get hands-on technical support for their Mac, iPad or other devices.

Johnson, 52, will report to Ullman, who will become executive chairman. Johnson will also join J.C. Penney’s board of directors in August.

Ullman has been CEO and chairman since December 2004.

Apple’s retail chain has grown to 300 stores in the U.S. and abroad and has become the gold standard for other retailers looking to make their stores modern and exciting. Johnson joined Apple after 15 years at Target Corp., where he was a merchandising executive who led the team that brought designer Michael Graves’ products to the “cheap chic” retailer.

Penney’s shares rose $5.26, or 17.5 percent, to close at $35.37 Tuesday.

Ullman, who turns 65 in November, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that he had tried to bring Johnson on board about three or four years ago, but “it wasn’t the right time.”

However, Ullman and activist board member William Ackman reconnected with Johnson six months ago. Ackman and Steven Roth, chairman of Vornado Realty Trust, joined the board in January.

Johnson “is widely recognized and highly regarded in the retail industry for his creativity and innovation, his commitment to empowering employees to deliver an unparalleled customer experience, and to making stores exciting places where people love to shop,” Ullman said in a statement.

Johnson told The Associated Press it was difficult to leave Apple but added that becoming CEO was a “lifelong dream.” He said he’s joining Penney at a time when momentum is building and said he wants to help “re-imagine what I believe to be the single greatest opportunity in American retailing today, the department store.”

Johnson declined to talk about specific plans for J.C. Penney. He noted he will stay at Apple until November.

Apple spokeswoman Amy Bessette said, “We have got a great retail team in place and are actively recruiting for his replacement.”

Since taking the helm of J.C. Penney in December 2004, Ullman had built on the success of his predecessor Allen Questrom, who was credited with turning around ailing sales.

Under Ullman’s stewardship, Penney, based in Plano, Texas, has moved from offering mainly store brands to filling its floors with trendy Sephora cosmetics shops and affordable lines like Cindy Crawford Style. Last year, it became the only U.S. retailer to sell Liz Claiborne and Claiborne women’s wear.

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