By JAMES COVERT
Johnson-era perks vanish in belt-tightening
They’re out of the Ritz, and their wings have been clipped.
As they fear for their jobs, the high-dollar execs hired by former JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson have quickly lost the perks he lavished on them, including fancy hotel rooms, cars and personal use of a pair of corporate jets, sources told The Post.
Several ex-Apple execs lured by Johnson — who was ousted last week after his botched turnaround bid sent the retailer into a tailspin — are on their way out, including Chief Operating Officer Mike Kramer, Chief Talent Officer Dan Walker and Chief Creative Officer Mike Fisher, sources said.
Those who remain, meanwhile, are getting a taste of Penney’s previously entrenched culture of thrift, as returning CEO Mike Ullman, who had been replaced by Johnson in 2011 after a seven-year stint at the helm of Penney, moves to stem bleeding cash and restore morale at the retailer’s headquarters in Plano, Texas.
“The tables have turned, and you can see this big sense of relief on everybody’s faces now,” said one Penney insider, noting that workers had spent most of the past year worrying about layoffs, even as Johnson’s execs lived high on the hog.
“Clapping and laughing” erupted at a meeting of more than 200 employees last Monday as word of Johnson’s ouster spread through headquarters, one insider said.
But Nick Wooster, a flamboyant fashion blogger who was quickly promoted by Johnson last year to lead Penney’s private-label business, “turned white as a ghost” in front of the crowd when he was handed an iPad displaying the breaking news, the source said.
As first reported by The Post, Wooster was among a group who refused to take up residence in Plano and stayed at the Dallas Ritz-Carlton during the week, returning on a company jet for long weekends to his home in New York.
While Wooster “got kicked out of the Ritz,” he still hasn’t shaken all of his old habits, according to one insider. “He had to get an apartment, and he made his office assistant wait for the furniture,” the source said.
Johnson regularly commandeered one of the Gulfstream 12-seater jets — which, before his arrival, were used mainly by execs to visit stores and trade events — to commute weekly to and from his home near San Francisco. In a securities filing this month, Penney said he spent $344,000 on jet use last year.
Johnson wasn’t the only highflier, as several other West Coast execs had hitched rides with him. Wooster and Fisher routinely used the company’s other jet for their own weekly commutes to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
In the weeks leading up to the exit, insiders said, something else was on the way out: Johnson’s power. Mid-level workers, formerly scared for their jobs, began to joke openly about their chief’s gaffes with suppliers, sources said.
Chief merchant Liz Sweney, one of the few longtime Penney execs to survive Johnson’s brief but stormy tenure, raised eyebrows last month when she casually told a group of more than 200 merchants that Johnson had bought his wife a pair of $80,000 earrings, sources said.
“I don’t know whether Liz was trying to embarrass Ron on purpose,” said one Penney source. “But that’s certainly not something she would have let slip last year.”
Penney, which didn’t respond to requests for comment, said last week that Kramer, Walker and Fisher were still employed, but it declined to make those executives available for comment, along with Wooster and Sweney.