J.C. Penney ( JCP) is betting on former Apple ( AAPL) exec Ron Johnson to correct the mistakes of former leader Myron Ullman III. Ullman joined J.C. Penney in 2004, leading the company during the peak of its decline. Ullman has been criticized for poor merchandising decisions, but he can be credited for bringing in brands like Liz Claiborne, MNG by Mango and Sephora. In his defense, his tenure was marred by the recession, which hurt the pockets of J.C. Penney's core middle-class shopper. But this didn't stop Macy's ( M) and Kohl's ( KSS) from barreling ahead. Johnson, who has been credited with the success of Apple's retail footprint, assumed the role on Nov. 1 and already is building up a powerhouse team, hiring Michael Francis from Target ( TGT) to serve as president. The hope is that Johnson will turn J.C. Penney into a modern shopping destination as he did for Apple. But first he must revive the department store's stale image, which has resulted in sagging sales behind Macy's and Kohl's.