Chapter 23: What If I Talk to W. R.?

J. C. Penney did win the Catalyst Award in 1995, one of only three companies to be singled out by the women-in-business advocacy organization. Duff-Bloom and the other women who sought and facilitated the appraisal process were ecstatic. Working with company PR and communications personnel, they began two campaigns to publicize the success, one internal and one for the business world at large. Arrangements were also made with the Catalyst staff for ceremonial appearances in New York. Howell would accept the award at an evening banquet at the Waldorf, with Duff-Bloom to be featured in a widely covered panel discussion that afternoon.

Gale, I Like the Man

On the big night, W. R. Howell flew in late and arrived at the Waldorf just in time to change in his suite and descend to the reception for banquet dignitaries. Later in the Grand Ballroom he accepted the Catalyst Award "with pride and humility ." It was a time to savor, and Duff-Bloom celebrated with Penney friends ” some of whom were not sharing her philosophical dismissal of the chairman's "absentmindedness." "The man has a lot on his mind," she had said, waving the question away. Really? Most thought otherwise ”that it had been wrong for Howell to accept the award without ever mentioning Duff-Bloom's name .

Duncan Muir, the PR executive who often guided Howell's appearances, was one. "What could W. R. have been thinking?" he wondered aloud .

"About running a $22 billion company?" said Duff-Bloom. "I keep saying."

"Well, at least you were sensational this afternoon."

"You were there? " asked Duff-Bloom, surprised.

"Of course," Muir smiled. "W. R. was going to be late, and I wanted to see you in action again anyway. Very impressive, Gale, and I mean it."

She knew he did. She had always liked the PR executive, as both a person and a professional. Their relationship was solid and forthcoming, and Muir was relaxed and direct with her despite Duff-Bloom's quite senior rank.

"There is one thing," Duff-Bloom said thoughtfully.


"Well, I have this network of friends ”all Penney people, all women, all scattered everywhere now. But the thing is, we talk to each other. And, aside from personal issues, they're my ears to the ground. You know?"

Muir nodded, knowing he was about to hear something interesting.

"Well, for a while now I've been hearing that we've become much too bureaucratic."

"Your friends have a point."

"Then how about this? W. R. is also too much of a dictator?"

Muir looked conflicted. "Gale, I like the man. Warts and all."

"I don't?"

Muir waited, then said, "Okay, forgetting the dictator bit, I agree. And I have a good story about knee-jerk bureaucracy. About Bob White." [1]

"Oh, I'm sorry . I never apologized to you!"

"You didn't have to."

"The goofy policy ”I was told to give that job to Bob."

"I figured." Then he smiled wryly. "But bureaucracy? Did you know Bob was badly infected?"

"No. But I'm not shocked to hear it."

"Okay, remember when W. R. lets it be known that we shouldn't change our minds?"

"But I always thought he really just meant for people to think things through."

"I agree. But not everybody saw it that way."

"Don't tell me."

Muir nodded with, "Bob White took it literally."

Muir had known that White was cycled to Plano from the field and was scheduled to return as the manager of a big store in a year. He also had reasoned that the "broadening" policy was behind White's being put in charge of company public relations despite having no previous experience in the field.

Muir now related this story. One day when he stopped by his boss's office to announce a change of mind due to some new information, White became upset.

"You can't do that."

"What?" said Muir.

"You can't change your mind like that."

"I can't? We can't?"


"Why not, Bob?"

"It's a sign of weakness."

"But this is PR and we have new information."

"I'm sorry."

"Things have changed, Bob."

"You still can't."

"Bob, we have to."

"I won't allow it."

"You what?"

"It's not our culture."

" Huh? "

Muir leaned back shaking his head and chuckling. "Do I have to tell you the trouble I went through end running that?"

"No," Duff-Bloom said, shaking her own head. Then her eyes sparked. "Duncan? What if I talk to W. R.?"

Muir regarded her admiringly. "He'd certainly listen to you."

[1] Muir's former boss and presently store manager.

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 © 2008-2017.
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