I Felt Absolutely Humiliated

I Felt Absolutely Humiliated

Not long after Pebble Beach, Penney's second in command, Barger Tygart, called together his top direct reports and announced a pleasant assignment. All were to clear their calendars and together attend a San Francisco retail conference in early 1994. The purpose (beyond the scheduled symposia) was to share learning experiences as a group , to interact with others in the retail industry as a group , and to bond as a group . Here was an opportunity to get to know one another in ways that the normal pressures of working together precluded. They would return a stronger team. In addition to Tygart, Jim Oesterreicher, Tom Hutchens, John Cody (another executive vice president), and Gale Duff-Bloom formed the teamaside from Howell, the company's top talent.

After the first full day in San Francisco, all agreed that both the conference and the bonding were going well. That night as guests of Levi Strauss, [1] they dined in a private room at the landmark Ernie's Restaurant. Here, in Duff-Bloom's words, is what happened that evening and the next morning:

"Toward the end of dinner, I saw something like the old game where someone whispers in your ear and you whisper in the next person's ear and so on around the table. I saw this topic being passed from ear to ear, but nobody whispered in my ear. When we were leaving the restaurant, though, Barger told me what was up. The men were going to skip part of the conference the next day and really bond at some famous golf course, guests of Levi's, of course.

"Well, I'm not a golfer and I said that certainly wasn't a problem with me. In fact, I had been looking forward to all of the next day's presentations at the conference and would be happy not to miss any. But some of the other men were standing close by, and I believe it was Tom Hutchens who said, ˜Oh, no, no, Gale, this is bonding and you've got to come with us. Even if you don't play, you can ride along and enjoy the view. It's a beautiful course.

"And so I reluctantly agreed to go. To ˜bond. But when the Levi's people picked us up late the next morning, they were surprised to see me. And, with the men's golf bags, now the van wasn't big enough, and it was an uncomfortable squeeze out to the club. Then at a very nice lunch somebody went over and whispered to Jim Oesterreicher and it started again, whispers around the table but not to me. Finally, Jim came up after lunch and gave me the bad news. This was a day when no women were allowed on the course. Didn't matter if they weren't playing, no women, period.

" Why didn't the Levi's men, who were members , say something back at the hotel when they stopped to get us? This date had to be prearranged, so why wait until we got all the way out there? Did they want to torture me? I couldn't believe this was happening. And then one of the Levi's men came up and said, ˜Gale, it's going to be okay. I have a car coming that will take you anywhere you want to shop. What? I just looked at him, and then I told Jim to tell his friend, ˜No, thank you. Then I called a taxi.

"Then I went out front to wait, and I started to get a little emotional. The theme of W. R.'s Pebble Beach speech kept coming back to me, and there I was living it! An outcast, a second-class citizen! How terribly unfair. I felt absolutely humiliated. And then Jim Oesterreicher came outand I wondered when things were going to get better instead of worse .

"Jim says, ˜Gale, what should we do? Do you want us to leave? And I turned and faced him and said, ˜If you have to ask, Jim, you couldn't possibly understand my answer. He just stood there a moment, then he says, ˜Well, I'm sorry about all this. As , of course, he goes back inside to get ready to play."

When the taxi arrived, Duff-Bloom got in thinking about the fact that Howell's top four lieutenants had just made a mockery of his Pebble Beach speech. [2] The men had behaved selfishly and unethically. To her, they had violated the Golden Rule and everything it meant to be a ranking Penney person. As the driver pulled away, Duff-Bloom announced the hotel destination and then leaned back, shut her eyes, and tried to concentrate on breathing .

As a woman , she had needed rules for survival and progress in the corporate world. Oneto never hold a grudgewould now be severely tested as never before (the group was scheduled for dinner at the hotel that evening, for example). But she would come through, as she always did. In the future, with dignity , she would manage to work with these men again and againBarger Tygart eventually extending the presidency of marketing to her in appreciation .

As the course disappeared behind her, though, she would never again have the same feelings for her formerly beloved J. C. Penney Company.

[1] LS&Co., headquartered in San Francisco, sold far more Dockers and Levi's apparel through JCPenney than through any other retailer.

[2] It is interesting to note that W. R. Howell was and is a member of the Augusta National Golf Club.

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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