Ron Johnson
best advice ron johnson

CEO of J.C. Penney

I graduated from Harvard Business School in 1984. Jobs were abundant, and I had many choices. I was torn between going to work at Goldman Sachs and a job at Mervyn's, which was one-third the salary. So I talked to my dad. He worked at General Mills. He said, "Of all the great leaders I've met, almost all started in that industry when they were young and learned every aspect of the business. Almost everyone started at the bottom."

The easy choice would have been to go to an investment bank. There was status and compensation and instant gratification. My dad said, "You can do that, but in a short period of time you're going to be wanting something else to do. If you're going to be significant at something, you've got to learn it from the ground up. There's no shortcut to success."

Retailing was fast moving, like playing a sport. I could have taken a job in strategic planning at Dayton Hudson [parent company of Mervyn's at the time], but I said, "No. I want to learn the business," and that's why I started in Glendale [as a store management trainee]. Today the same lessons apply to everything I've done, whether it's good design at Target or building the Apple Store. There are no shortcuts.

I remember when Apple went through a tough period. I didn't feel the pain as much as Steve [Jobs] did. When you are in the leadership position, the tough times can be much more difficult, because your job is really to shield your team through that, to keep them from taking shortcuts. We are building J.C. Penney for the next century. It's not about the quarter or the year.

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated October 25 2012 07:21 AM ET
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