Apple taps global search firm of Egon Zhender to help find replacement for departing Ron Johnson

Wed, Aug 3, 2011


With Apple’s retail mastermind Ron Johnson set to become the CEO of JC Penny next fall, Apple is currently looking for a replacement for one of its most important executive positions – Senior VP of Retail. While the position may at first glance appear less important than some of Apple’s other executive slots, remember that Apple’s line of retail stores have  helped propel Apple intoto the stratosphere, both in terms of the money it rakes in and the overall public perception of Apple.

Apple’s retail stores are immensely profitable and remain the envy of nearly every other company on the planet. This past quarter, Apple noted that revenue from its retail segment rose 36% yoy to reach $3.5 billion and account for approximately 13% of its total quarterly revenue.

It’s hardly a coincidence that Microsoft has styled its own retail stores after Apple’s, even going so far as to place them in close proximity to each other. Indeed, Apple’s retail stores are so popular that they even prompted enterprising folks in China to set up counterfeit shops. When’s the last time you heard about something like that?

And driving Apple’s retail growth the past 10 years has been Ron Johnson who was behind some of Apple’s more well regarded initiatives such as the introduction of the Genius Bar.

In short, the retail position at Apple is extremely important and seeking a replacement for Johnson is something that Apple is doing with utmost care and precision.

To help conduct its executive search, Apple has tapped the esteemed search firm of Egon Zehnder International to help find its new retail chief.

Highlighting the importance of Johnson’s role as Senior Vice President of retail, Steve Jobs was intimately involved in the “decision to use a search firm and chose Egon Zehnder mainly because he wants to consider executives who are based abroad” a person familiar with the situation told the Wall Street Journal.

While its roots are in Europe, Egon Zehnder operates worldwide, with 63 offices in 37 countries, according to the firm’s website. The firm lacks an official headquarters, though its chief executive works from Paris, the spokeswoman said.

The firm was the top executive recruiter worldwide in 2010 based on global revenue, estimates Nancy Garrison Jenn, a consultant who advises global companies about choosing recruiters.

Whereas Apple traditionally finds executive replacements from within the company, the hiring of Egon Zhender suggests Apple is looking for someone with substantial international retail experience, which makes all the more sense given that Apple’s retail initiatives going forward are as focused internationally as they are domestically. During the June quarter, for example, Apple owned up four new retail stores, all located abroad.

Looking forward to the next quarter, Apple plans to open up 30 new stores (in the US and abroad) including its first ever retail store in Hong Kong.

It goes without saying that replacing Johnson, who is something of a retail legend at this point having helped turn around both Target and Apple, will not be an easy task. It’ll be interesting to see who Apple eventually picks.

The last time Apple went with an outside hire for one of its top executive positions, it hired former IBM executive Mark Papermaster. Papermaster didn’t last long at Apple and quickly fell out of favor with Apple CEO Steve Jobs and left due to cultural incompatibility.


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