The reader knows that I didn't think much of several of the senior executives I encountered in the Golden Crescent. Gale Duff-Bloom, however, was certainly an exception. Next to Howell, in fact, I thought she had the best business mind and the most talent. I met her when Debbie Litwak, Gordon Curry's boss, suggested I write a speech for Gale. The experience was good for all of us, and the relationships continued for several years .
Gale selected me to write her speech because she had bought into the approach I used to preach: entertain them with the message. I had written the Pebble Beach speech, which she thought was terrific . And, in a trade magazine, she had read good things about LaRovere's presentation to the Textile Council. She also knew that, as a writer and coach, I had made passable performers out of Penney executives previously known for curing insomniacs.
Duff-Bloom's material was easy; in one input session, I easily noted or recorded enough good stuff for a couple of speeches. It was exciting, too, that the presentation would have plenty of heart. Duff-Bloom, for example, recalled Columbus manager Charlie Collins's welcome when she became an official management trainee, a story that touched me and I knew would move an audience.
"Gale," I said, "this is definitely the way to end your speech."
She smiled, liking the idea. "Can you make it pay the whole thing off?"
"That's the idea," I said, almost condescendingly. She later confessed that she was able to sit on her irritation with me, figuring she had a lot to learn and remembering experiences in other areas of retail where working with talent was often uncomfortable but important.
Practice in front of an audience had easy answers as well. Within the company she was a star. And there were so many JCPenney meetings going on every week in the Plano complex (her topic fitting almost any meeting) that she could practically take her choice. Likewise, she was easily connected to regional corporate conferences where there was interest in her speaking. The problem was her first "national" venue . It had to be just right. Not more important or more attractive than W. R.'s Pebble Beach audience, but a significant and pertinent gathering that would launch her nationwide .
Robin Caldwell was one of the impressive young women Duff-Bloom had "surfaced" who was presently running Penney's charitable donations department. This was no small responsibility, as the company had been giving away over $20 million a year to favored charities or appealing good works. Naturally, these donations all had an angle. There had to be some subtle benefit derived from every donated dollar. In the spirit of the company's record of outstanding corporate citizenship, however, the charity was basically sincere. No corporation in America, for example, put more effort into United Way drives than JCPenney. Education was another strong area of interest. An example was the "JCPenney Eminent Scholar" honoraria at universities like Florida and Texas A&M with strong marketing/ retailing programs.
Gale called Caldwell one morning figuring that someone out there under the Penney umbrella might be interested in her diversity/inclusion message. She explained, "There's plenty of lead time, about six months. But don't you take more than a week or two. I need time to go out and practice this thing."
"So you obviously don't want to preempt W. R., so nothing before he talks at Pebble Beach ”am I guessing right?"
"I'll get back." She got back the next morning.
"Gale, you said not before W. R., right? And he speaks in the morning, right?"
"You've got something on the same day? "
"Gale, it's perfect. Afternoon at the University of Florida, national retail conference, accent on personnel, Warrington College of Business ”I'll send up the details in a moment. Guy in charge, Bart Weitz, has real credentials, M.I.T., Stanford Ph.D. And all the media types you'd want. Everybody who isn't at Pebble Beach will be in Gainesville."
"Damn," said Duff-Bloom happily. "And how did you pull this off? I'm not exactly a celebrity."
"Yet. But you're not exactly unknown, Gale, number one. If there's any doubt, there won't be after Weitz introduces you. Number two is this interesting fact. Bart Weitz is the ˜JCPenney Eminent Scholar there."
Duff-Bloom chuckled and said, "Nice work, Robin."
My first draft worked for her, and she didn't have many changes. Now she was ready to practice. She spoke twice to groups in the Home Office, having me make a few additional revisions after each. Then she presented the material up the road in Denton at the University of North Texas's "Executives in Residence" conference. She told me that the material was working like a charm . And she happily added that she herself was proving pretty darned good at delivering it.