I Know He Is

I Know He Is!

As Lansing's civic and business leader, Jack Maynard had New York's respect. The Penney Company believed in community service and was probably the nation's best corporate citizen. Maynard was a frequent speaker at company meetings on this subject, always inspiring his audiences. In every speech he said, "A good store cannot exist in a bad community."

Maynard's civic involvement again concerned an Adrian-like spectrum of good works to which he added more politically specific duties like the governor 's capitol building commission. He also included rather deft efforts in more practical areas. Late one afternoon, for example, he returned to the store and, needing to talk, waved for Batten as he ascended to his office.

"I've figured it out," he said, a glint in his eye. "Are you up on the anti-chain agitation these days?"

"I believe so," said Batten. He knew that a federal anti-chain law without much punch had been passed, and that Congressman Wright Patman was talking about introducing new legislation with more power to cripple chains. A worse problem for chains was the fact that laws had already been enacted in 39 states. Associations of independent merchants had successfully lobbied state legislators for severe discriminatory taxes on chains. The argument was unfair competition.

The anti-chain movement was building and now focused on Michigan, a key labor state that had not yet passed such a law. The thinking went that if Michigan did so, the remaining states would follow suit. Batten knew that this might put his career at risk. But the issue and political action were too removed from his personal everyday life to be little more than abstractions. Jack Maynard (whose radar was always on) suffered no such limitations, however. In fact, he had just succeeded in reducing the problem to a possible one-on-one solution.

"Well, the answer is Rouser."

"Yes, sir?"

"He's the one putting the bug in their ears."

Equidistant from the state capitol building and a block away on another corner was the C. J. Rouser Drug Store. Every day when the drugstore opened and every night when it finally closed, Batten passed by on his way to and from work. Even in the dire economy, he had sensed the independent druggist's prosperity and now he was filled in on Rouser's thriving prescription, sundries, and lunch -counter business as Maynard laid out his plan. The preponderance of the drugstore's customers were men ducking in from the capitol. And the druggist, a politicized and voluble man, patrolled his store and put the bead on influential legislators.

"Every day Rouser fills them with anti-chain propaganda. So stop him and Michigan doesn't pass the tax law."

"One man has such influence?"

"In this case, yes, believe it or not. That's how a lot of legislation gets done up there."

"Then how do you go about converting him?"

Answering with relish, the manager said, "Rouser's a decent sort , just misinformed. I'm going to become a very good friend of his. I'm going to give him all of our business. I'll drop in at all times. I'll find some reason to have a Coke. I'll have some reason to buy something. I'll even start having lunch there regularly." At that moment Batten knew the depth of his boss's commitment. Because Maynard loved nothing more than having lunch at his club as often as possible.

"And every time I walk in that drugstore," Maynard continued , "I'll find some reason to chat, and in the process he's going to learn a lot about chain stores. He doesn't know it yet, but I'm going to convert him."

It happened just like that. Following the anti-chain movement's failure in Michigan, the Supreme Court declared discriminatory taxes in Iowa unconstitutional. Other states repealed similar laws, the tougher federal tax proposed by Patman never passed, and the movement was over.

Months later Mil Batten happened to grab a quick bite at Rouser's lunch counter. The druggist was behind the counter talking to a customer about Michigan State football. When he finally started to walk away, Batten rose on impulse and reached out his right hand. "Hello, Mr. Rouser, I'm Mil Batten. I work for Jack Maynard."

"You do?" Rouser replied pleasantly. "Well, how do you do? And what you really mean is you spend all day answering Jack Maynard's questions!" The druggist laughed. "Good heavens! He has to be the most inquisitive man on the face of this earth!"

"He may be at that, sir," Batten replied.

"I know he is!" The druggist laughed again as he returned to work.

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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