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JC Penney nabs Apple's head of retail to become its new chief executive

The head of Apple's retail operations, Ron Johnson, is set to depart Apple and will become the new president and chief executive of retailer J.C. Penney.

Johnson, who played an instrumental role in the success of Apple's retail stores since the first one opened 10 years ago, will take over as the new head of J.C. Penney Company on Nov. 1, the company revealed on Tuesday. Johnson has spent the last 11 years as senior vice president of retail at Apple.

"I've always dreamed of leading a major retail company as CEO, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help J. C. Penney re-imagine what I believe to be the single greatest opportunity in American retailing today, the department store," Johnson said in a statement. I have tremendous confidence in J.C. Penney's future and look forward to working with (current CEO) Mike Ullman, the executive board and the company's 150,000 associates to transform the way America shops."

Prior to his work at Apple, Johnson spent 15 years at Target, where he served as a key merchandising executive. He received his MBA from Harvard Business School, and a Bachelor of Arts in economics at Stanford.

Johnson's hiring is part of a succession planning process in place as Ullman prepares to become the company's executive chairman. Effective Aug. 1 of this year, Johnson will also join J.C. Penney's board of directors.

"I am delighted that Ron is joining our board and the company, and look forward to working with him as we continue to transform the J.C. Penney brand," Ullman said. "He 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. His tremendous accomplishments at Apple and Target speak to his great consumer merchandising, marketing and operational talent."

Late last year, Johnson took receipt of his third mega-million dollar payday in as many years, exercising 150,000 AAPL stock options. He cleared a whopping $44.2 million in profit before taxes.

Prior to that, in March, he moved 200,000 options for a profit of roughly $46 million, and in 2007, he netted nearly $113 million from selling 700,000 shares of common stock.

Johnson was lured away from Target by Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs in 2000 to spearhead the company's fledgeling retail business. He's renowned not only for crafting an international chain of retail stores that are among the world's most profitable per square foot, but also for pioneering the extremely successful "Genius Bar" concept found inside those stores, in the face of initial stiff opposition from Jobs.