Who Wrote That, Jack?

Except for a few bad patches like the automotive bust, sales per square foot were nowhere greater than in Lansing. This was an especially strong accomplishment because, compared with larger operations like the huge new downtown Seattle store, Maynard's floors were too narrow and confined to be truly efficient. He made up for this in three ways. There was the outstanding shopping environment and a superior staff coaxed into outstanding performances by endless amiable questioning. And, of course, his value fashions were now in synch with the latest trends.

Maynard, therefore, was held in the highest regard by the New York brass. Despite the run-ins they had learned to anticipate, they appreciated his sales and respected his standing in the community. As a result, his presence and input at company meetings was always sought and appreciated. Maynard could make inspiring speeches on community service, but what really got everybody's motor running were his often trenchant comments on operations ”in the chain and in the New York Office.

Consequently, at a Toledo, Ohio, regional meeting in mid-January of 1940, Jack Maynard's first out-loud remarks caused a stir in the ballroom. Rising from the floor to address the chair , CEO Earl Sams, he would imply that the emperor's clothes were a little drafty.

A corporate program, like CEO speeches, is often offered by the top executive as if it is of the executive's authorship. And, if not that, it is always clear that at least the executive's imprimatur is on it. This is only fitting, after all, since all programs reflect the CEO's mission and standards. Or they should. This was as true then as it is today.

Earl Sams, the silver-haired picture of vigorous health, was watching Herb Schwamb, his personnel vice president, conclude a presentation of the new Penney Management Training Program. This material had been shipped to the stores months before. Its purpose was to prepare qualified young associates for store, district , regional, and New York management positions . The purpose of Schwamb's presentation today was to light a fire under store managers regarding the actual usage of the program.

When Schwamb concluded, thanking the audience to polite applause, Sams rose from his seat near the podium. He pointed a rolled-up meeting agenda at Schwamb and raised a fist in a token salute.

Sams stepped to the hotel ballroom podium and said, "Well! An excellent presentation, don't you think? Thanks, Herb. I think that was just great. Now, before we break for lunch , do any of you have any comments about what we've just heard ?"

A DM and a manager offered successive favor-currying compliments on the program. Then Jack Maynard stood to speak.

"Nice job today, Earl."

"Thanks, Jack."

"Okay, let's see, let's see " said Maynard, fishing in his coat pocket as if not quite sure of finding what he was looking for. "Ah, yes," he continued , pulling out five pages of handwriting.

"You see," said Mil Batten, again looking back in time, "when Maynard got anything from New York, he would always ask us to critique it. So in comes this training program, which he asked me to write a memorandum about. The next day I handed him five pages handwritten on a scratch pad. And what did I think? Not much, basically. It was too superficial, too narrow in scope, and not challenging enough. I just didn't like it. We had already developed our own training program, and it was quite superior. And I said as much ”for Maynard's eyes only, I thought. It turned out that was the trigger that got me to New York."

"Well, gentlemen," Maynard said in the ballroom, "I know of at least one person who doesn't think much of that program. We all seem to like it, but he doesn't."

Murmurs arose in the room. "What do you mean, Jack?" asked Sams.

Maynard held up the pages. "I've got a memorandum here I'd like to read, if I may."

"Go ahead," said Sams evenly.

Maynard read the pages, his mellifluous voice heard clearly in every corner of the room. He finished and stuffed the pages back in his pocket with a smile and nod toward the podium.

There was a pause, and the murmurs grew louder.

In the life of any corporation, getting at the truth internally is always a major challenge for the leadership (or it should be). And there, in Toledo in 1940, was a demonstration of the Penney Company's traditional character: its ability to often cut through the crap and deal with the truth, to usually select the best available idea, no matter where it came from (give or take New York's teethgnashing over Maynard's creativity). While this trait would disappear in later years , it was as alive and well at this meeting as Sams himself.

"Who wrote that, Jack?" asked Sams. "I know you didn't, and I think I know who did, but tell us who did it."

"I'm not going to tell you," Maynard smiled. The murmurs peaked. "Not until you tell me what you're going to do to him."

"I'm not going to do anything to him."

"Is that a promise?" said Maynard, again with a smile.

"Jack," said Sams, "how long have we known each other?"

"Okay, Earl. Sorry. The author of that memo " Maynard patted his pocket. "The author is Lansing's first man, Mil Batten."

Sams's face showed the slightest creases of a smile. "Why," he said, "am I not surprised?"

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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