1. Ron Johnson
> Company: J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP)
>Share price YTD: -42%
Johnson became CEO of J.C. Penney in November 2011. In a little over a year, he has crippled what was already a vulnerable retailer. Johnson, the former retail chief at Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), serves at the pleasure of William Ackman of Pershing Square, which owned, as of the last proxy, 18% of J.C. Penney. Vornado Realty Trust also owns nearly 11%, which means the two groups together control much of the sentiment of the board. Ackman will get tired of losing money, or perhaps the holders of Pershing fund will. It is amazing Ackman has stayed with Johnson as long as he has, given J.C. Penney’s performance. In the most recently reported quarter, revenue fell from $4 billion to $2.9 billion. J.C. Penney posted a loss of $123 million. The figures for the first three-quarters of the year were just as bad. Revenue fell from $11.8 billion in the same nine months a year ago period to $9.1 billion. The loss for the nine months was $433 million. Johnson will not make it through 2013. The question is whether J.C. Penney will, or will the board need to sell the retailer off in pieces.
2. Jeffery R. Gardner
> Company: Windstream Corp. (NASDAQ: WIN)
> Share price YTD: -26%
Gardner became Windstream CEO in late 2005. One of Gardner’s great accomplishments as head of Windstream, according to the company, is that he “has completed nine acquisitions since its 2006 spinoff from Alltel Corp.” Windstream’s stock performance has been weak so far this year, as well as over the longer term of five years. Wall St. has shied from the Windstream shares because, although revenue has risen because of M&A, the bottom line has not. Revenue has gone from $3 billion in 2006 to $4.3 billion in the most recent fiscal year. Net income has dropped from $545 million in 2006 to $172 million in the most recent fiscal year. Matters have gotten even worse recently. In the most recently reported quarter, pro forma revenue was $1.55 billion, a drop of about 1% from the same period a year ago. Net income on the same basis was $54 million, down from of $78 million a year ago. Where has Gardner failed shareholders? He has diversified into very weak businesses, particularly in the disappearing landline sector. Gardner’s efforts in high-speed Internet and competition from alternate broadband offerings continues to damage Windstream.
3. Michael Dell
> Company: Dell (NASDAQ: DELL)
> Share price YTD: -30%
It is usually hard to fire a founder who is also the CEO of the company he started. Michael Dell may be the most powerful case for breaking this precedent. Dell’s shares are not only down 30% this year, but they have fallen 59% over the past five years. For the most recent quarter, revenue fell from $15.4 billion to $13.7 billion. Net income fell to $475 million from $893 million in the same quarter a year ago. For the first nine months of the fiscal year, results were equally disappointing. The most damning evidence against Michael Dell is that he has been much too slow to diversify his company into either the enterprise markets, which are controlled by such companies as International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Oracle Corp. (NASDAQ: ORCL), or into the smart device business, as Apple and Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) have. M&A activity has included deals such as the recent one to buy Gale Technologies. The company is not large enough to give Dell critical mass in the enterprise, consulting, software and services business, which drives the strong results at industry leader IBM.
4. Sherilyn McCoy
> Company: Avon Products Inc. (NYSE: AVP)
> Share price YTD: -38%
McCoy joined Avon Products as CEO on April 12. Avon’s share price is down 38% since then, a remarkably poor record. McCoy was brought in to turn around a company almost ruined by her predecessor, Andrea Jung. In the third quarter, revenue dropped 8% to $2.6 billion. Net income dropped 81% to $32 million. Results for the first three-quarters of the year were not any better. If strong leadership is highlighted by the ability to articulate the plans that will make the company successful in the future, McCoy has failed. Among the comments in the most recent quarterly report was: “Management has the team fully aligned around actions that will accelerate top-line growth, reduce costs and improve working capital.” Shortly after Avon released its quarterly results, it announced it would cut 1,500 jobs and close its South Korea and Vietnam operations. This was part of a program to save $400 million annually. McCoy explained these moves “begin the process of returning Avon to sustainable growth.” She did not explain how cutting costs brings about better sales.