Ticket to Ashtabula


In early 1935, after a year in Lansing, when the manager of the shoe department was moved up, Batten got the job. He became the youngest department manager in J. C. Penney's Michigan-Ohio district , and shoe sales rose. Three months later Batten heard that Lloyd Rittenour, a 10-year veteran, was being transferred to a smaller store. Rittenour managed the Lansing store's main floor, the next -best job under that of the first man. The rumor puzzled Batten. He went up to Maynard's office on the balcony overlooking the main floor.

"Yes, Mil. What is it?"

"Mr. Maynard, I just heard that Ritt may be leaving. For Ashtabula? Is that right?"

"Yes, it is."

"Well, sir, I'm trying to learn everything I can, of course."

"And?" Maynard's questionparticularly his sound and facial expressionwas neither intimidating nor vague.

"I've been on the first floor for 15 months now, and I would have said that Ritt's a good man. If you don't mind a little interjection here." Batten managed a smile and waited as Maynard regarded the comments in his appreciative way.

"I don't mind, and you're right," Maynard said, indicating the floor below. "Mr. Rittenour is a good man and I think someday he will run a small store well. But he cannot stay here any longer."

"Why not?" The two words had tumbled out of Batten's mouth despite himself.

"Because I would have to give him instructions. And I never give people instructions." Maynard smiled. "Do I?"

"No, sir, you don't."

"Anything else?"

"No, sir."

"Well, I'm glad you came up on another count. Mr. Rittenour will be leaving in a month. And I'll be promoting you to take his place. Just keep it under your hat for a while."

Batten touched his chest and mouthed the word "Me?" "Yes, and well deserved, I might add."

A month later Rittenour departed, and there was a small cake and punch party in celebration of Batten's newest promotion. Maynard (age 45) and first man Herb Steinmetz (age 38) said nice things about Batten (age 25), and the other associates crowded around with their own congratulations (smiles on the faces of some older men were a bit forced). In short order, Batten had the floor running better than before, to the surprise of many. This did not, however, mean that his work was outside the manager's unique scrutiny. Nobody's was.

Maynard was a floor-oriented manager, on the floor two to three hours a day observing everything and talking to customers and associates alike. One day he approached Batten and indicated the front of the store. "Mil, in women's accessories I noticed that you have women's gloves on the first table. I was wondering why you have that particular item on your best table."

"Well, because of its sales possibilities," Batten said, giving Maynard the rate of sale and projected sales for the gloves. "So, in my opinion, the sales justify that table."

"Fine," said Maynard. He added, with a smile, "You know, I'm not familiar enough with our merchandise to know what's selling and what isn't. But when I walked past the table I wondered, ˜Now why is this item here? I didn't think it justified such an important table." Maynard nodded and stepped away toward another interest with, "But now I can see that it does."

A typical encounter with the manager. Questions, never instructions, but always questions. Batten knew that if Maynard had heard him stumble, that if he had not had a sound reason for the gloves being on the prime table, the reply would still have been, "Fine." But in a different, thoughtful tone, his expression indicating the slightest shade of disappointment.

Maynard actually did not know much about merchandise and merchandising . He was not a merchant in that sense, which made him unlike the other star performers in the chain. He had a fundamental belief that people were the difference, that good people got good things done. Therefore he surrounded himself with the best people he could find, gave them responsibility, and consistently backed them up.

One day, for example, Maynard's wife, Irene, entered the store with two friends . Batten observed the ladies from across the store as Mrs. Maynard led them to the hosiery department. "Now you have to understand," he reflected years later, "that we had one of the outstanding hosiery departments in the whole company. Percentagewise, in fact, I think we were on top. A Mrs. Elsie built that business, a great associate. She was typical of a number of women in the store, real professionals who ran their departments and trained people like me. They provided the stability and knowhow."

Mrs. Elsie and another woman were busy with several customers when Mrs. Maynard said, "Mrs. El-sie," in a loud, sing-song voice.

"Hello, Mrs. Maynard."

"We are wait-ting, Mrs. El-sie." Mrs. Maynard's friends stifled giggles.

"I'll be with you personally in just a minute, Mrs. Maynard," said the department manager. Her other customers scowled in the ladies' direction.

No more than 30 seconds went by before another "Mrs. El-sie."

"Yes, Mrs. Maynard. Just another minute."

The manager's wife's eyes narrowed. "That is not acceptable."

Mrs. Elsie looked desperately at her other customers and said, "I'm sorry," swallowing her voice. She abandoned those women and served Mrs. Maynard and friends with a tight face.

As the three ladies left the store with their new hosiery, Batten walked over to see Mrs. Elsie, who was too upset to face her unserved customers.

"Mrs. Elsie," he said, "I just wanted you to know how sorry I am that happened . I will see what I can do." The woman looked at Batten and then put her hand over her face and fled to the women's rest room.

Batten went directly up to the manager's office and related the incident.

"I'm terribly sorry that she did that. What do you think should be done?"

Batten only hesitated a second. He trusted the question and had thought about this while climbing the stairs. "I think you should go home and tell Mrs. Maynard not to come into the store for three months."

"You do?"

"Yes."

"All right, I'll do that." Maynard rose, put on his coat, and went directly home, where he waited for his wife to appear. After returning to the store, he also apologized to Mrs. Elsie, assuring her that such a thing would never occur again. Nobody saw Irene Maynard again for almost half a year, and when she returned to the store she was a model of deportment.

Some in the company thought Maynard's style was flawed. They felt that a good Penney manager should be more hands-on. In Batten's view, this was probably why Maynard never advanced out of Lansingnot that he ever wanted to. He loved his store, he loved his position in the community, and he loved his lifestyle.

Maynard had a beautiful summer home on Walloon Lake in the Petoskey resort region of northern Michigan. Every year just before Memorial Day he would leave for a summer of recreation and service as commodore of the Walloon Lake Yacht Club. He did not reappear in Lansing until after Labor Day. There was telephone contact, although it was rare. The Penney hierarchy was fully aware of this, and New York Office executives even occasionally spent a few days at the lake as his guest. "I have hay fever ," he once told Batten, "and I'll kill the SOB who gives me a cure for it!"

The manager's sense of style extended well beyond his personal life, something that was underscored one day for Battenindirectly, of course.




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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