2012's Most Delusional CEO: Sell His Stock Now

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I will spare J.C. Penney (JCP) CEO Ron Johnson the embarrassment of linking to video of the presentation he gave investors earlier this year. But, trust me, I offer a completely accurate account.

Shortly after leaving Apple ( AAPL), of all places, Johnson illustrated the difference between confidence and cocky arrogance. It didn't take long for him to show us stubborn delusion.

In retrospect, new Yahoo! ( YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer's casual disclosure that she was with child has got nothing on the junk Johnson talked early in his tenure at JCP. And, despite the clear fact that he has already failed, Johnson clings to hopes of an improbable turnaround.

Somewhat surprisingly, the elder Johnson could learn a thing or two from fellow first-time CEO Mayer. She smoothly entered the fray at Yahoo!, making tweaks and boosting morale as she surveys the landscape. There's no bombast. No smoke and mirrors. No pomp and circumstance. No outrageous predictions. Just a veteran-like calm, cool and calculated approach as she prepares to make history.

How Not to Introduce Yourself

Long story short, Johnson took the stage at the aforementioned January 2012 investor conference and outlined his trajectory as a high-powered executive. He noted that Steve Jobs essentially questioned his sanity not only for leaving Apple, but leaving Apple for J.C. Penney.

He went on to set the critics straight. Johnson told the crowd of JCP shareholders and, presumably, Wall Street analysts and the media, that everybody thought he was nuts when he left Target ( TGT) for Apple. But, as history proves, he left a strong company to help lead -- or so he thinks -- Apple's transformation.

Johnson sees himself leaving Apple at the top of its game like he claims he did Target. He went so far as to compare today's J.C. Penney to the Apple he joined in 2000. But, he made an important distinction -- by several measures JCP is better off today than Apple was at the beginning of the century.

Johnson then made the bold claim that his past successes will fuel an Apple-like metamorphosis at J.C. Penney. In fact, if I read his words, facial expressions and body language correctly, he made eventual triumph at JCP sound like a foregone conclusion. It's not just a possibility; it's destiny. After all, look at what he did at Target and Apple.

Don't Argue With a Delusional CEO

Just walk away. That's your best bet.

It's pretty obvious Johnson reads his own press clippings. He believes the hype. That's why he will not admit that he has been almost 100% wrong since he took over at JCP. That's why he says things like "we'll stay the course" after a pathetic series of disappointments.

And that's why his stock soared when he spoke on the conference call his company used to provide details of another horrific quarter. Because Wall Street, for some reason, also believes Johnson's hype. JCP crashed in the pre-market, but made an incredible recovery when the CEO rocked the mike.

Wall Street treats the guy like Amazon.com ( AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos even though he does not belong in a league with people like Bezos and Jobs.

It's pretty basic. Johnson deserves little, if any, credit for what happened at Apple. He received his stock options for doing what Steve Jobs told him to do.

Jobs, along with the designers and engineers he inspired, wrote and executed the Apple story inside and outside of retail. Johnson was little more than a beneficiary of this once-in-a-generation accomplishment he happened to ride shotgun on.

Now, at J.C. Penney, Johnson operates under the delusion that he had something to do with Apple's success. He continues to float a strategy that sells some sort of sizzle, but does not come with even a small cut of steak.

Simply put, Johnson has no product to sell at J.C. Penney.

There's not one thing on the shelves at JCP that you cannot get somewhere else, save a few exclusive celebrity brands here and there. You need great products -- like Apple has -- or a price advantage -- like Target has -- to bring people in the door. Without these things, you actually need to innovate to draw a crowd.

If Johnson thinks making iPads available for browsing in a department store -- or in boutique stores within a store -- will attract customers, he might fit the clinical definition of delusional.

It's patently absurd to call anything Johnson has done thus far at JCP innovative. He has merely dipped into the same dead and tired retail toolbox his predecessors have failed with for years.

Don't buy the bounce. In fact, as TheStreet's Marek Fuchs suggests, sell it.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this article.

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