By the year 2000 and its 98th anniversary, there had been a total of seven J. C. Penney CEOs. All had spent virtually their entire adult lives with the company. But only one, Mil Batten, had never managed a store. A signal achievement, it also marked the beginning of the end of the company's historic flexibility.
By the time the administration of Jim Oesterreicher was canceled in September 2000, 17 years had passed since the company had been led by first-rate Penney people. Unlike Oesterreicher, who had the bad luck to preside over Penney's five-year fall (something not of his doing and beyond his grasp), the last of the really solid Penney leaders had been very lucky.
The reader will understand more about the Penney Company after being introduced to them.
Good fortune , of course, plays a part in every successful career. Think of the luck involved when Maynard connected with Wilk Hyer and Batten with Maynard. Of course, there are many other wrinkles leading to many kinds of success. Jack Maynard and Mil Batten, for example, would have succeeded almost anywhere . But Walt Neppl and Don Seibert needed the J. C. Penney Company to thrive. In a sense, Maynard and Batten found the company and made it their own, whereas the company found Neppl and Seibert and made them its own. This is because both were the Penney ideal: ordinary men with extraordinary ability. Back in 1917 when James Cash Penney began concentrating on personnel and went to even more exhaustive lengths to find the right men, he wasn't looking for a Maynard or a Batten. He was looking for a Neppl or a Seibert.
They were the salt, not the pillars, of the earth. They were the kind of men who are saluted as the backbone of America. You could line up 100 Harvard, Chicago, and Stanford MBAs and not find a single Neppl or Seibert. But you could easily see them rising to leadership positions in the Fire Department of New York. Over the years they would lose any rough edges and eventually move comfortably in the elite circle of top New York executives. But neither man ever lost the common touch.