Stop the Bleeding At JCP: Fire Ron Johnson

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In mid-August, I named J.C. Penney's (JCP) Ron Johnson 2012's Most Delusional CEO.

At about $22.90 (and long before), I urged investors to "Sell His Stock Now."

With JCP set to languish in the teens, Ron Johnson should become one of 2013's first-fired CEOs. The company needs a visionary who can abandon the long-failed department store concept and come up with something that's actually different.

J.C. Penney must disband and regroup, morphing into an organism completely unrecognizable to itself and its customers. Like an oldies radio station ditching the format for hard rock, it will scare away much of its remaining base; however, it has no choice. The same old retail toolbag Johnson continues to pull from hasn't worked for longer than awhile.

At some level, Johnson has something in common with Apple's ( AAPL) most ardent bulls.

I'm talking about the people who ripped me all year long for warning about Apple's prospects without Steve Jobs. Suddenly, the Can Apple maintain its magic w/o Jobs? storyline leads almost every media headline and analyst commentary.

For more than a year, AAPL bulls, desperately not wanting the dream to die, blew off the realities a Steve Jobs-less, Tim Cook-led Apple faces. They wanted it both ways. However, over the long term (I still believe in AAPL the stock over the next 3-6 months minimum), they can't have it both ways. It's too complicated for such psychologically comfortable simplicity.

The same type of dynamic doomed Johnson at J.C. Penney from the beginning.

When JCP hired him, the move duped me just like everybody else. But then I saw Johnson speak (via JCP investor relations) shortly after getting the gig at a big analyst powwow in New York.

You're being nice if you label his presentation narcissistic and egomaniacal. You spare the man's feelings if you called him deranged while watching. And you're not being critical enough if you give his performance the benefit of the doubt.

Johnson allowed his experience at Apple to give him a false impression of himself.

Finally, the rest of the world catches on: Steve Jobs made the magic at Apple. Not Tim Cook. Not "Jony" I hate when people who don't know him call him by his first name Ive. And certainly not Ron Johnson.

Even though some AAPL bulls put it in the back of their minds, few people misunderstand the impact Jobs had on those around him. Even if he was a total jerk in the process, he willed people to reach a level they likely would have never achieved without his presence and prodding.

If you're Johnson -- and you see the retail segment you "lead" turn the space on its ear -- it's easy to believe your own hype. He clearly does.

At the aforementioned investor day, Johnson waxed about how people thought he was nuts when he left Target ( TGT) to join Apple. Drawing from Apple's success, he scoreboarded.

He then effectively spit on Steve Jobs's grave.

Johnson explained that even Jobs thought he was crazy for leaving Apple at the height of its dominance to join lowly JCP. He scoffed at the naysayers -- and not-so-indirectly at Jobs -- who questioned his decision to move from Target to Apple. Amazingly, he did this by arguing that JCP in January 2012 was in the same position, only a bit stronger, than Apple was when he came aboard. And look at what I did there.

It's one thing to be confident. And it's clear that Johnson has respect for Jobs. But he just doesn't get it.

Taking orders from Steve Jobs and not screwing up isn't the same thing as building a revolutionary retail division that companies from Sony ( SNE) to Microsoft ( MSFT) to Tesla Motors ( TSLA) imitate, but never duplicate.

Sony and Microsoft stores are embarrassments. They're hardly a step above the knock-off Apple stores that popped up in China.

Tesla stores serve a purpose, but they only mimic Apple in spirit, not quite as much in design and other cosmetic and operational specifics.

Johnson can't function on his own post-Jobs and Apple.

Here's a quick and dirty review of what he has done at JCP: First we're not having sales. Then we kind of are. And we'll put a store containing items you can pretty much find everywhere else inside of a store that contains items you can pretty much find everywhere else. We'll call it a boutique. Or a store-within-a-store.

That's the level of innovation and creativity Johnson brought with him from Apple?

If Steve Jobs were here today, he would chest bump me for pointing this out. Then he would suggest JCP fire their "B" player and hire a true entrepreneur who has the capacity to transform retail. Not just some Hey, I used to work at Apple! retread who blindly repeats the failures of his predecessors.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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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