Report: J.C. Penney CEO discusses departure of Francis; marketing wasn’t resonating

New York -- J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson is taking over direct responsibility for marketing in the wake of the departure of Michael Francis, who left the company abruptly on Monday, Women’s Wear Daily reported.

Speculation has been raging about the reasons behind Francis’ sudden exit after just eight months on the job. In the article, Johnson blamed it on the fact that J.C. Penney’s marketing had not resonated with its core customer and that he “had to get involved.”

“My job as CEO is to really take responsibility for everything. I felt compelled to dive in and help with the new strategy. Michael and I both concluded we didn’t need two hands on the same steering wheel. The marketing I largely left to him. The fact that it hasn’t resonated [meant] I had to get involved,” Johnson said in the report.

The J.C. Penney CEO also said it was “mutually agreed” that Francis should leave.

“It’s really hard to see him go,” Johnson told WWD. “He’s really well liked. It was very tough.”

Johnson made it clear in the report that he will be overseeing marketing.

“At this point, I am going to take direct responsibility. I will not be searching for a replacement,” he said.

Industry analysts were surprised by the sudden departure of Francis, who was recruited from Target, where he served as chief marketing officer, and was credited with enhancing the retailer's fun and hip image. He brought a quirky style in J.C. Penney's marketing, although some critics complained it did not do a good job of communicating the chain’s new pricing strategy.

“What they were doing hasn't worked. [Francis] is the fall guy,” said Walter Loeb, New York-based retail consultant, in an Associated Press report.

Ultimately, Loeb said, people have to look at Johnson, who drove the new pricing plan. Loeb believes the plan is out of touch with shoppers' current mindset.