BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES

5 Things to Consider When Opportunity Comes Knocking

When opportunity knocks, you want to shine like a star, not flame out -- like Ron Johnson did at JCPenney.
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Transitions are risky times. Whenever you start a new job or have new responsibilities, it's an opportunity to shine like a star--or flame out.

Just ask Ron Johnson, chief executive officer of JCPenney until he was abruptly fired the other day. That's a big change for a guy who walked on water at Apple. The retail experience he created at Apple's vaunted stores was nothing short of genius.

But when Johnson attempted to remake JCPenney in his former company's image, the result was nothing short of disaster. After installing his own handpicked management team, gutting the company, and implementing a massive restructuring plan, sales reportedly fell off a cliff.

Now Johnson's out, the massive amount of stock he was awarded to take the job is worthless, and JCPenney's former chief, Mike Ullmann, gets to figure out how to somehow bring the company back from this nightmare.

So when opportunity inevitably knocks, here are five things to consider. 

Don't let your ego write checks that reality can't cash. It must be pretty heady stuff to be offered the opportunity to put your vision to the test, to run the show after living in other's shadows for so many years. But you can't let it go to your head and cloud your judgment when there's so much at stake.

Evolutionary change is usually better than revolutionary change. Big ideas are great-- when they work. When they don't, well, you see what can happen. If the situation calls for taking huge risks, then you've got to do what you've got to do. But in this case, I think Johnson could have taken it one step at a time. He could have tested his ideas on one store before restructuring the entire company around a bold new concept that had never been tried before.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Just because it worked before doesn't mean it'll work again, especially in two completely different markets with different customer dynamics. Johnson should have known that. Sure, he worked previously at Target, but the rules he was applying at JCP came from his Apple experience. They didn't translate well, to say the least.

Maybe you should just stay put. To say that Johnson gave up a sweet gig at Apple to take the reins at JCP is a gross understatement. There are worse things than being part of the executive management team at the world's most powerful and exciting company. Something similar happened to me once. I should have stayed put. Johnson should have, too. Something to consider when you're about to risk a good thing on a roll of the dice.

You've got to pay attention to the market. There were lots of signs along the way that Johnson's strategy wasn't working out as planned. That his head was in the clouds and his ideas were over the top. But he wasn't hearing any of it. He more or less stuck to the plan and ignored the naysayers. The thing is, you can't just break all the rules and make believe everything's magically going to work out fine. You've got to pay attention to what customers, employees, and investors--your stakeholders--are saying.

Last updated: Apr 10, 2013

STEVE TOBAK | Columnist

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, an executive coach, and a former senior executive of the technology industry. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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