In May 2000, a month after Gale Duff-Bloom retired , perhaps the sorriest moment in the history of the J. C. Penney Company occurred in Lenexa, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. In order to fully appreciate this rank (and finally dramatic) episode, a brief philosophical review would be helpful.
The decline and fall of the Penney Company is a classic example of the curse of corporate arrogance . One imagines that around the country today there are bright and capable young men and women who, remaining ignorant of the lessons of business history, are condemned to repeat them on some future stage. They, it seems, will be the last to understand that if a company's leaders come to view their own presence and process as the heart of the business, a heart attack is bound to follow.
Over much of the twentieth century J. C. Penney was among the world's best-managed business organizations. It had been founded with a strong sense of identity that became even greater as it developed into a power. It had known what it was and where it stood, and so had its customers. A Main Street Penney store had been essentially about trustworthiness , service, and value.
In the march of years , however, the emphasis widened to include a variety of other businesses as the stores swelled with an ever-increasing range of merchandise including an emphasis on value fashions . With those changes, the difference between JCPenney and its competitors narrowed. What had been unique retailing became increasingly similar to everyone else's. Penney had shifted from being a company of merchants to an organization of managers, with its focus changing from serving customers and communities to maximizing sales and profits. Finally, the actions of its leadership became both soulless and silly. This was embarrassingly evident when a shareholders meeting was convened in the Kansas City suburb.