As skillful as Maynard was, he could only push New York so far.
First man was the only major personnel decision not wholly vested with a Penney store manager. Because of the importance of the job, approval from above was required. When there was a stalemate between the store manager and the district manager, New York often simply dictated who the new man would be. This put Maynard in a bind. He could easily anticipate the kneejerk objections to Mil Batten's first man candidacy ”too young; not enough years of service; limited exposure to all store departments. To Maynard, however, Batten was clearly an exception to any rule in the personnel office. Therefore, the manager had planned a campaign. For over a year Maynard had carefully praised Mil Batten to his district manager and to New York. His theme was consistent: Batten, he said, was a fast-track candidate for advancement and must not be judged against normal Penney criteria.
It was now early May 1936 and Batten had been in Lansing almost two and a half years. Maynard was finishing an airmail special delivery letter to New York. The topic was number one on his mental to-do list before heading north to Walloon Lake for the summer. He concluded with these words:
I suggest that you recheck C. W. Coleman's letters from Parkersburg, John Keys' files in New York, and my own continuing praise for Mr. Batten in correspondence from Lansing. Then you may more fully understand that Mil Batten's length of service should not weigh nearly as heavily as this fact: Here is a young man who can get more accomplished sitting on his porch in the evening than most men can by digging all day.
While broadly accurate, this was somewhat romanticized, as was Maynard's want. The truth was that Batten had neither a porch nor the time to sit on one. His ideas came when walking the few blocks between his one-room apartment and the store. Working 85- hour weeks, he usually only had time for a late supper with Kathryn (who was teaching school) before falling into bed.
Maynard put the letter aside as Batten entered the balcony office. "Ah, Mil, sit down for a minute."
"No. Right, actually. But I'm not sure I should tell you any of this."
"Afraid you may be disappointed. Both of us might." Maynard regarded Batten and continued . "Steinmetz has been promoted. He gets the store in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. Which leaves me short a first man." He paused to tease the moment, then produced his million dollar smile. "I'm putting in your name , of course."
" Thank you, Mr. Maynard."
"You deserve it." Then Maynard's expression changed. "The problem is New York. I'm afraid they're somewhat limited in imagination over there. You know, of course, that in the whole chain nobody has ever become first man at your age and with as little as your time here and in West Virginia. Nobody."
"Yes, I know."
"It'll be a tough sell."
"But if it can be done, I'm the one to do it."
Batten rose and reached to shake Maynard's hand. "Thank you, sir."
"No. Thank you for working out so well. Oh, and keep this to yourself until we see how it all shakes out, okay?"
It didn't shake out well.
Just before Maynard was scheduled to leave for the summer, he approached Batten on the main floor. The manager held out his hands, palms up. "Mil, I said we might be disappointed, and predictably, New York has other ideas."
"Well, thanks for trying, Mr. Maynard." Batten tried to hide his disappointment, to forget the fitful days and nights of waiting.
The manager chuckled dryly. "I don't know if they're trying to send me a message or what. But not only are they unable to see you quite yet as first man, they are sending me two first men instead."
"Believe it or not. I'm going to have to delay leaving for the lake in order to get them acclimated. But I'll be relying on you, Mil, for a smooth transition while I'm gone."
"A bit awkward there, but I know you can handle it."
"And, Mil?" Maynard produced a serious smile. "We just have to live with this. But on the positive side, both of these men have 12, 13 years of experience. Hmm?"
Batten answered with an obligatory nod. "They'll have things to teach me, I know."
"Yes, and between you and me I'm happy you have such a quick take on things." Maynard let it hang there.
"Thank you, sir. Because I'd better learn fast from these men?"
The manager cracked a smile and nodded once, his eyes asking for one more answer.
Batten returned the smile. "Because I imagine they won't be around for long?"
The co-first-men concept was, of course, doomed from the start. Batten managed to get along with both men and absorb much of their experience. The problem was that they couldn't get along with each other. Worse, both of them were totally flummoxed with Maynard's management style. "What do you mean?" one or the other would plead to the manager. "Please explain what you want." They were gone in a little less than a year. Batten received a note via the pneumatic tube:
Please see me in first men's office.
He quickly went up to the balcony. The first men's office was between Maynard's and the room where the secretary and the cashier worked. Just outside, he had to step aside as two young men from the stockroom removed one of the twin desks. The manager was waiting inside with a big smile. "Congratulations to my new first man!" He gestured toward his own office. "I just got off the phone with Al Hughes, no less. Imagine. Paying longdistance rates at the Penney company!"
Batten was wearing a big grin as Maynard continued. "Mr. Hughes said, ˜Jack, with great misgivings we are finally acceding to your request regarding Mr. Batten. I'm afraid if we didn't, you'd find some stratagem to get rid of whomever else we might send in. "
1937. Mil Batten, age 27, now had a well-paying job for depression-torn Lansing. He would be making $250 a month, which was a good living. The Battens could now afford to rent a small house and buy a used automobile. But it was the attention that Maynard had forced New York to give him that mattered most. Misgivings or not, his name had been entered on the short list of Penney candidates for greater things. As he said much later, "I was with Jack Maynard for six years. I would never again learn so much so fast. I owed everything to him."