In 1907 Jack Maynard had graduated from high school in San Francisco as a distinguished student and football captain. After two years working as a machinist and studying marine engineering by correspondence, he had nearly drowned when his ship foundered on the rocks just outside San Francisco harbor. Reconsidering a life at sea, Maynard took a job at the Levi Strauss overall factory. Ambitious and quick, he soon graduated from the factory floor to the office and what passed for management training. There he noticed something that captured his imagination .
Levi's biggest customer by far was a booming Western dry goods chain once quaintly known as the Golden Rule stores. Renamed and incorporated as the J. C. Penney Company, the chain was saturating the West and moving eastward. In two years alonefrom 1915 to 1917the company grew from 83 stores to 175. Maynard figured this was something he needed to be a part of, but the question was how.
There was also another, more troubling question. Eager to determine exactly what drove this new mercantile company's success, he made several discreet inquiries. All he managed to discover in San Francisco was that the Penney organization apparently had a special esprit de corps. One day an executive remarked with amusement , "All their managers are like Masons." Masons? Did this preclude Maynard, a Catholic, from any such future?
A good-looking young man with unusual presence and bearing , Maynard could also outthink his boss. Eventually, after some adroit questioning (having determined that questions rather than commentary often achieved greater results), Maynard asked the man how he might get a better inside feel for Levi's customers.
"Why," exclaimed his boss, pleased with his inspiration, "I shall put you on the road with a seasoned salesman , that's how!" A short time later Maynard had seen firsthand how unusually committed Penney personnel were. By deft, seemingly innocent questioning, he had further learned that there were no Jews in the Penney Company, but otherwise several faiths were represented, including Mormons and Catholics.
Finally, at the Walla Walla, Washington, Penney store, Maynard succeeded in pulling the manager aside and appealing for a job. The manager, Wilk Hyer, had interests in other Penney stores and was always looking for promising candidates to join the organization. He agreed to take on Maynard, sensing something special in the young man. A few weeks later, after giving his notice at Levi Strauss, Maynard and his new wife, Irene, moved their few belongings to Walla Walla, where Jack began as a basement stock boy.
It was 1916. In hardly more than a year, Hyer wrote Penney and Sams that he had an exceptional talent in Jack Maynard. Hyer wished to promote Maynard to first manwhich would have represented a radically fast move up the ladder in any period of the company's history. But New York, not for the last time in Maynard's career, had other ideas. Hyer was advised to continue seasoning the young man; promotion to first man would follow in due course.
Hyer piled every kind of responsibility on Maynard's strong shoulders, often asking him to work 100 hours a week. Maynard always complied agreeably, and Hyer's sales increases were duly noted in New York. In 1920 Maynard moved to another store in which Hyer had an interest and became one of the organization's youngest first men. The store was located an hour down the road in Milton, Oregon, and its manager (and Hyer's partner), H. B. Hooper, was told by Hyer, "Just step aside and let this whizbang go." Hooper did, and a year later Hooper's sales were up nearly 25 percent. Hooper once remarked to Hyer that he didn't quite know how Maynard did it. He never seemed to give anyone instructions. His presence in the store was very strong, but all he seemed to do was engagingly ask associates and customers alike questions and more questions. Hyer responded that the same had been true in Walla Walla, where Maynard had unofficially run things although not receiving the first man designation until the move to Milton.
One day Penney visited the Milton store accompanied by Hyer, who now spent most of his time in St. Louis overseeing all of the company's shoe buying. Hyer, who filled many roles and would acquire great wealth, was also the founder's Northwest adviser before the district manager system became formalized . Everyone knew that Penney placed great stock in Hyer's word. Thus it was a shining moment when the founder shook Maynard's hand and said, "I hear good things about you, Jack. Keep up the good work."
In Milton, Maynard began his lifelong second career in civic affairs by serving as president of the chamber of commerce as well as by heading community fund-raising drives and serving on the school board. After two years in Milton, Maynard was given his own new store in Adrian, Michigan, a county seat located in a prosperous farming area in the southeastern part of the state.
Was it any surprise that Jack Maynard became the most popular and successful businessman and citizen in Lenawee County? Certainly not to Penney's management, which considered community service as important as floor sales and saw Maynard as one of a handful of national rising stars. In Adrian, Maynard ran the chamber of commerce, the community chest, the Rotary Club, the YMCA, and the Boy Scouts and served as a director of the bank. And his sales increased every yeareven after the crashmaking his store as profitable as any in the nation on a dollar-per-squarefoot basis.