Ron Johnson, Apple’s former vice president of retail and the creator of the Apple Store, left for J.C. Penney November 1 and already he is picking industry veterans to join his leadership team at the Plano, Texas-headquartered department store chain. The Wall Street Journal reports that Johnson is tapping former Apple talent, including former chief financial office of Apple Retail Michael Kramer and Apple’s chief talent officer Daniel Walker.

Interestingly, it was Walker who helped Steve Jobs hire Ron Johnson to head Apple’s retail efforts. Both men served at Apple from 2000 to 2005. Granted, Walker and Kramer are both long-exited Apple people, but the temptation for current Apple talent to somehow make its way to Penney will always linger.

Sure, you might say who would  rather work at J.C. Penney rather than the most powerful, cool technology company in the world. But on a granular level, there might be high paying jobs with Johnson that Apple won’t match that could draw some top Apple talent.  Johnson himself is probably the best example of that.

There is also likely a non-compete clause in Ron Johnson’s severance agreement barring him from poaching Apple employees, but those are easily circumvented.  Just as Steve Jobs poached a bunch of his top Apple engineers to build out NeXT…

According to Walter Isaacson’s authorized Steve Jobs biography, Steve Wozniak drew upon himself Steve Jobs’s wrath for inventing the universal remote outside the Apple umbrella. Check out this anecdote:

One Saturday, a few weeks after they had visited Washington together, Jobs went to the new Palo Alto studios of Hartmut Esslinger, whose company frogdesign had moved there to handle its design work for Apple. There he happened to see sketches that the firm had made for Wozniak’s new remote control device, and he flew into a rage. Apple had a clause in its contract that gave it the right to bar frogdesign from working on other computer-related projects, and Jobs invoked it. “I informed them,” he recalled, “that working with Woz wouldn’t be acceptable to us.”

When the Wall Street Journal heard what happened, it got in touch with Wozniak, who, as usual, was open and honest. He said that Jobs was punishing him. “Steve Jobs has a hate for me, probably because of the things I said about Apple,” he told the reporter.

Jobs’s action was remarkably petty, but it was also partly caused by the fact that he understood, in ways that others did not, that the look and style of a product served to brand it. A device that had Wozniak’s name on it and used the same design language as Apple’s products might be mistaken for something that Apple had produced.

“It’s not personal,” Jobs told the newspaper, explaining that he wanted to make sure that Wozniak’s remote wouldn’t look like something made by Apple. “We don’t want to see our design language used on other products. Woz has to find his own resources. He can’t leverage off Apple’s resources; we can’t treat him specially.”

So, while this example does not correlate fully to Ron Johnson’s hiring process, it certainly illustrates Apple’s deeply rooted sense of intellectual property and desire to protect its engineering talents and the overall look and feel of its products – in the aforementioned example the company’s design language which is today even more so relevant in the light of the ongoing legal spat with Samsung.

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