Gale Duff-Bloom landed at the Gainesville airport at the time Charlie Mechem was calling for a break at Pebble Beach. She was met by an assistant to the Warrington College dean because Professor Bart Weitz was wheelchair bound. In the car, as they began passing through the main University of Florida campus, Gale felt a pang. She had immediately liked the size and appearance of the school and suddenly suffered the recurring regret that she had never experienced a true on-campus student's life. She knew that all the business books, meetings, and seminars would never add up to the same thing.
The reception at Warrington was disappointingly flat. She hoped this wasn't a bad omen. Then her spirits were elevated at the late lunch . Her host, Professor Weitz, was an amiable and interesting companion in addition to being an impressive business scholar. They sat at a ballroom front table, the lone podium on a low riser close by ”already adjusted, she could see, for her 5 ² 3 ² ² height.
The briefing material Gale had read on the plane gave her a good idea of her audience: about 400 corporate personnel- related executives along with several business school names from around the country, all with impressive credentials (panel and break-out speakers ). Weitz immediately pointed out the table occupied by the local media types and some national trade press reps. She would also be taped, and two cameras were already set up and manned. She was getting psyched.
Halfway through dessert Weitz was given a hand mike and his voice was suddenly heard from the room's speakers. He reintroduced himself and went over some conference housekeeping and then segued right into their keynote speaker without notes. Gale smiled to herself. The man's memory was as good as W. R.'s. And then she was on. The applause lifted her to the riser and the podium. On her way up to face the audience, she wondered about W. R. He would have finished his speech ” the speech ”by now. She felt a rush as she wondered what the hell had happened . Good? Bad? Triumph? Disaster?
Then she laid her speech box on the podium, opened it, slid the top page across and down to the lower left half, looked at all the people, smiled, and surprisingly exclaimed:
"Go Gators!" This was a national conference, yet she got a good laugh and applause. She was off on the greatest moment of her career.
"Professor Weitz, distinguished faculty from Warrington College and the other great institutions represented here today, corporate friends , including several of you who actually are my friends and Steve Spurrier, if he happens to be in the room."
More laughter and applause. They loved this woman and she hadn't said a thing yet!
[LOOK THEM OVER SERIOUSLY] "And ”why in the world did the Penney Company develop initiatives for the advancement of women and minorities and invite all the stress and strain that inevitably accompany such moves? Well, to begin with, it had as much to do with making a buck as doing the right thing. [HOLD A BEAT] Diversity and inclusion are just good business! [THEY WILL LIKE THAT!] But before I get to the whys and wherefores, I want to say something nice about my boss. [SAY IT RIGHT AND THEY WILL CHUCKLE] The two greatest things our CEO, W. R. Howell, ever did ”in my humble opinion ”was, first, to reposition our company from a mass merchandiser to a national department store in the value fashion business. And, the second thing was: he wholeheartedly backed all the JCPenney diversity and inclusion programs!" [IF THERE IS JUSTICE IN THE WORLD AND A GOD IN HEAVEN, THEY WILL APPLAUD!]
I used to lace my work with notes like that ”what I called "after- burner cues." Immediately or eventually speakers (including Duff-Bloom) would have their secretaries excise them, hopefully after some of the direction had sunk in. But for this speech and the next one Gale told me that she left the remarks intact as good luck talismans. Early on, she wanted the extra support.
After citing various milestones of progress (her title and those of another woman and an African-American officer, etc.), the speech got to work with a flair. The bulk of the material presented the JCPenney diversity/inclusion story (the basic menu for winning the Catalyst Award). She proudly enumerated all the programs and built up to gender equity in sports. She stressed the total commitment from the top, and followed with the good-for-business numbers .
Then the surefire close.
[HOLD UP FOREFINGER] "One last thing. I am proud to be part of a proud company's proud tradition ”which once affected me in a very personal way. [LOOK AT THEM] I began as a Penney management trainee in 1969 at a big Columbus, Ohio, store run by a typically outstanding Penney manager named Charlie Collins ”rest in peace . But they didn't want me at first. I was just a floor sales associate and I didn't fit the model for a Penney management recruit. I was too old, I had three children, and I had no college degree. But I was persistent, and Mr. Collins finally petitioned the regional and New York offices to make an exception in my case. And, on his word, they did. We had a little ceremony where Mr. Collins said ”and I'll never forget it ” ˜So you see how we reach out at the Penney Company, Gale. And, someday it will be your own turn to reach out as well. [LOOK AT THEM] And so today it is my own turn ”and my privilege ”to reach out with our diversity and inclusion initiatives. As it is also my privilege today to do so for such a special audience. Thank you so very much for the opportunity."
The applause was totally heartening. And now the well-wishers began to gather around the professor's table. Several of these people gave Gale their cards. One got her particular attention.
A middle-aged African-American in a well-cut suit reached to shake hands. "Ms. Duff-Bloom, I'm Coleman Peterson. I'd like to talk sometime if we may. I really loved your speech and wondered if you'd consider giving it at Wal-Mart's Saturday Morning Meeting ”which is a big deal for us."
Gale had taken in the essentials on the card:
Executive Vice President
The People Division
She pocketed the card with a smile and said, "Certainly, Mr. Peterson. I've heard of the meeting and I'd be honored. Call me anytime ."
At that moment someone handed the professor a plain #10 envelope with "Ms. Duff-Bloom" hand-written on the front. He handed it up to Gale, with, "Message for you, Gale."
"There's no escaping, is there?" she said with an amused roll of her eyes. "Excuse me a moment." She ripped open the envelope and unfolded Weitz' stationery with the following typed after the date:
message for ms. duff-bloom
telephoned at 2:40 pm:
W. R. was sensational.Details tomorrow.