The CEO of JC Penney Ron Johnson sat with CBS “This Morning” to defend his company’s new spokesperson Ellen DeGeneres from attacks by the religious group One Million Moms that seeks to boycott the retailer if it did not axe DeGeneres over her sexual orientation. Putting the controversy aside, the interview (available on the CBS website and over at YouTube) gets interesting at mark 3:50 when Johnson reflects on his long tenure as Apple’s Vice President of Retail. The “Steve Jobs of the retail industry,” as some have dubbed him, said retailing is anything but a walk in the park:

Retailing is hard and that’s what Steve said when we started stores at Apple. But you look, you know, dozen years later and the stores are really popular with people. And they’re really popular because people know that the store cares more what the product does for them than just selling the products. At Apple, in many ways, the relationship with the customer begins when they buy.

Johnson, 53, drew parallels to how he built the Apple Stores on experience. Before joining Apple in January 2000, Johnson served as Target’s Vice President of Merchandising. He left Apple in November 2011 to take the reins at JC Penney. Apple hired CEO of Dixons John Browett as Johnson’s replacement, prompting pundits to opine how folks consider Dixons stores “the worst of Best Buy and Radio Shack combined.” When asked about the lessons he learned from Apple’s cofounder, Johnson responded:

Oh, I learned so much from Steve. It was a blessing to get to work for 12 years with, you know, one of the greatest people our country has ever had. But the most important thing he told me was to trust your intuition and do the right thing. Steve just said if you do the right thing and focus on just one thing at a time you’re best, you’ll end up in a really good place.

After illustrating his vast experience as Apple’s chief of retail, where he pioneered the concept of Genius Bar and upscale shopping experience, the executive pledged to apply the same long-term customer relationship approach to re-imagine JC Penney stores:

The most important thing is, we have extraordinary respect for customers. We think people live busy lives and the world’s pretty complicated. So we wanna simplify things.

At this point, the anchor interrupted Johnson and asked whether JC Penney stores will open 24/7 like Apple’s Fifth Avenue store:

We think stores should be a part of people’s lives, but they shouldn’t interrupt people’s lives. So we’re not gonna do this early morning things where we have to get up at 4am to get good value. We kinda want you to rest in our stores, we wanna you to live your life wherever that needs to be. If you gotta coach soccer for the kids, go coach soccer.

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