Jim Oesterreicher came from one of Michigan's many German-American farm communities. He was the first on his family tree to attend a university, graduating in 1964 (Michigan State, B.S. in marketing and retail). He trained at the J. C. Penney downtown Lansing store built by the legendary Jack Maynard. Like many successful Penney people, he had never known another employer. When he settled into the enormous chairman's suite in 1996, Wall Street was still singing his predecessor's praises after three consecutive record-breaking years . But now Howell was history, and the title and company were Oesterreicher's. All he had to do was keep the money ball rolling.
Winding up his first day in the chairman's suite, Jim Oesterreicher could have looked out and gazed at the fountain and terraced gardens in the twilight before heading home for a late dinner with his wife, Pat. He could have allowed himself a moment of reverie. A succession of images might have played across his mind's eye. The Michigan farm, MSU, the Lansing store, all the other stores, offices, and distribution centers he had come to know. He could have reflected on the 11 times he had uprooted his family in his 32 years with JCPenney. Or he might have studied the fine appointments of his sumptuous suite and savored a sense of accomplishment.
But he did none of that. Instead, he dictated memos and then checked his mail, a chore he never delegated. Once his desk was clear, he packed his briefcase and headed straight home ”as he did every evening when he wasn't traveling or obligated to appear at some function.
On that particular night, Jim and Pat Oesterreicher may have allowed themselves a congratulatory glass of wine with their food. But after dinner, they probably worked together on the contents of his briefcase for another hour or so before going to bed ”usually by 11, because he was always at his desk by 6:00 a.m.