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Bill Ackman: The Great Scapegoat at JCP

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I agree with the line of luminaries -- Starbucks (SBUX - Get Report) CEO Howard Schultz, TheStreet and CNBC's Jim Cramer among them -- that hedge fund manager Bill Ackman is bad news for the world. And, by association, bad news for JCPenney (JCP - Get Report).

As he "voluntarily" steps away from the JCP Board, investors -- as well as the shopping public -- cannot lose sight of what really matters. We can blame Ackman for Ron Johnson and, subsequently, JCP's failures all we want, but don't pin the carnage on one man's influence, as poisonous as it appears.

Find one person who questioned JCP's decision to poach Johnson from Apple (AAPL - Get Report)? As one of the first to turn sour on Johnson, I was even on board, initially, with his hire. It was difficult not to be. Here's an overconfident guy, a beneficiary of riding shotgun with Steve Jobs, who bullied us into believing his hype. Come to think of it, Jobs was the only one I can remember who thought the whole thing was kinda funny.

He knew that Johnson would fail at JCP even if he didn't explicitly say so. In fact, the similarities between Johnson at JCP and Cook at Apple are striking. Here are two guys who emerge as perceived superstars working side-by-side with Jobs. Put them out on their own, however, and it's a different story.

At JCP, the same culture of obviousness that dogs sterile retailers such as Best Buy (BBY - Get Report), even as some of their stocks head-fake us, will mire JCP in irrelevancy. The company is, apparently, looking for a permanent CEO to replace the interim Mike Ullman. This is encouraging. But JCP cannot pull a Best Buy or we're in for more of the same.

Don't let BBY's stock price fool you. Wall Street has put the company into remission, but it will slip back into its death bed sooner rather than later. Best Buy continues to pull from the same, tired tool bag of slightly-adapted retail tricks. If you think the store within a store concept has any legs whatsoever, you're not taking the papers.

Like Starbucks, broad-scale retailers such as JCP and Best Buy must start seeing themselves as technology companies. That starts with having a proven tech visionary (or retail visionary who bleeds tech red) at the helm. Working as Steve Jobs's admin-implementer simply doesn't cut it. We know that now.

I don't claim to have the vision to turn retail around, but I also didn't have the vision to foresee what Bezos saw at Amazon, Jobs at Apple or Dorsey at Twitter. That's why I write about this stuff. There's a different between knowing what needs to be done -- from a more abstract or wide-ranging standpoint -- and having the rare ability to articulate, illustrate and execute it like the special ones do.

Until retail throws its money at guys of the Bezos/Schultz/Jobs/Dorsey ilk, it will maintain its stagnant line at best, implode in spots at worst. Pointing the finger at Ackman buys time, but that's about it. He's not the problem at JCP. The entire board as well as run-of-the-mill, stuck-in-the-early-2000s management deserves a bulk of the blame.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in New York City

Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.

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AMZN $380.16 0.00%
BBY $38.10 0.00%
JCP $8.50 0.00%
SBUX $93.48 0.00%

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