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Apple on the hunt for new retail chief

The company is searching for a new retail VP to replace Ron Johnson, who officially left earlier this month to head J.C. Penney, but finding someone with his expertise and instincts may be difficult.

Apple is searching for a replacement for its former retail chief Ron Johnson.
Apple is searching for a replacement for its former retail chief Ron Johnson.

Apple is busy trying to hire a replacement for the retail chief who helped launch the company's Apple stores. But finding the right person could prove to be a challenge, according to a Bloomberg story today.

Working with Steve Jobs, Ron Johnson is credited with devising a retail strategy that led to the look, feel, and success of the company's 350 Apple stores and their Genius Bars.

Walter Isaacson's recently released biography of Apple's late co-founder recounts how Jobs and Johnson walked around different malls and stores trying to get a sense of how to design Apple's retail outlets. It was Johnson who recommended at the last minute that the stores revolve not around products but more around activities to show people what they could do with each product working together.

But Johnson officially exited the company on November 1 to become the new president and CEO of J.C. Penney. That's left Apple with big shoes to fill. But this time the challenges are different, notes Bloomberg.

Instead of ramping up a new retail strategy, Johnson's replacement has to make sure the stores continue to maintain their high quality and generate their substantial revenue. Further, Apple is looking to entrench itself even further in the growing and lucrative Chinese market, putting pressure on the new retail chief to drive that expansion.

Rumors have been flying as to who Apple might tap to be the new retail chief, and whether that person would be internal or external to the company

Bloomberg said that "Apple enthusiast sites" pointed to Steve Cano, one of Johnson's deputies and the global head of store personnel, as the one who would replace Johnson, but that Apple said the report was not true. Aside from Cano, Johnson's other deputies included Jerry McDougal, the vice president of retail, and Bob Bridger, the person in charge of selecting store locations.

If Apple expands its search externally, then it may consider candidates from a range of retail companies, including those in Europe, and not necessarily technology firms. Some of the companies cited by analysts who spoke with Bloomberg are Coach, Nike, Alliance Boots, Ikea Group, and Next PLC.

According to one analyst, replacing someone like Johnson usually brings in around 300 candidates that Apple will eventually boil down to 10 finalists before it makes its choice.

Apple did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment. But a statement sent to Bloomberg from Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said, "The search is under way with lots of interest, and we are carefully selecting Ron's successor."