Chapter 20: Onward and Upward


W. R. Howell was refocusing Penney's traditional view of the financial community. It used to be a nuisance matter, something barely tolerated. But Howell began paying a great deal of attention to Wall Street. This provided Duff-Bloom with access that, she knew, could become a real boon to upward movement as well as be nettlesome to the boys above her.

You Can Hold Me to That

Although she was a quick study, she had to put in even longer hours in order to (often barely) present Howell with accurate pictures of the company's stock performance as well as keep stockholders and the Street mollified. According to Duncan Muir, the veteran Penney PR pro, "Gale was really effective with analysts because of her personality and the fact that she spoke like a merchant, which was a refreshing change of pace. She had always done her homework and I don't remember her once making any kind of a slip. But the Wall Street types also knew they were hearing the real deal, not some management CFO-type mouthpiece."

Muir, who spent a lot of time guiding Howell's appearances and photo sessions, casually let the CEO know of Gale's success with financial audiences. Because of that and her direct reports to him, by the end of her first year she enjoyed an excellent rapport with the main man. And she was still secretly thrilled (as many others were then) to be in his presence. Then one day in his office Howell looked at Duff-Bloom as though considering her ability to absorb something particularly sizeable. He nodded dramatically, then spoke in a confidential tone that was new to her.

"There's a lot of stupid speculation about our move here, you know. But aside from scoring on the real estate, have you thought about one of the biggest side benefits? It's something we can't tell our shareholders, but it's true nevertheless." His eyes, which could argue so convincingly, now shone with cunning amusement .

"Side benefit?" she had to ask.

"All those people who refused to move down here? Lucky break, in my opinion. Gives us a chance to balance our workforce. Hmm?"

"I guess you're right."

"I am right, and we're putting people like you in those jobs ” people who come from the field and know what's happening in the stores."

"People like me?" she said with a smile.

"Yes," he nodded. He gave her another instant sizing up and added, "Including women. More women. You can hold me to that."

She hesitated one second, then dared to say, "I will."

He regarded her, then smiled himself. "I know you will."

She had levitated down the hall after that meeting, euphoric with the new knowledge that unless she somehow screwed up, her career was going to continue at an increasingly upward angle. She had just been told so.

The hall she traversed was on the executive floor of the Aberdeen Building in North Dallas. In contrast to the modest executive offices they had left behind in New York, of course, the Aberdeen executive offices were quite spacious and plush. Executives showing off their new digs would explain the change with comments like, "Is it any wonder we moved here? This is what the company gets for half what New York cost."

As Duff-Bloom returned to her office, she reflected briefly on some of the top men who resided at the heavyweight end of the building. Besides Howell, she thought two other men were absolutely top- notch : Bob Gill (a merchandise pro) and Dave Miller (a stores expert), both of whom having been in the running for CEO. Others ”capable enough execs without star quality ”she didn't regard as highly. She wondered what it had been like in the executive suite during the Batten and Seibert years .

After another year of lustrous service, she was promoted to the number two spot in the Merchandising Division, which presented merchandise across the whole spectrum of the then 1,200 department stores. A year after that, she was made senior vice president and director of merchandising . Duff-Bloom had advanced to within one step from the executive suite of a $22 billion organization.




Celebration of Fools. An Inside Look at the Rise and Fall of JCPenney
Celebration of Fools: An Inside Look at the Rise and Fall of JCPenney
ISBN: 0814471595
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 177
Authors: Bill Hare

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