"Before the company moved to the 6th Avenue building, there was some thinking about Westchester or Connecticut or even Dallas, with a campus and trees and lakes. A strong case was made regarding the numbers , the premium we paid to remain in New York City, etcetera. Well, nobody loves natural beauty more than I do, but, I'm sorry, New York is where it's at. I strongly felt that our business was too dynamic, too ever-changing to be headquartered anywhere but New York. I thought our people should draw from the city's energy, be stimulated by the maelstrom, be in the center of it all, the activity, the gossip, the rumors, the tension, be in the midst of the battle. New York is tough. Not for nothing do you always hear that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I think that's good for us, as well as our being only minutes away from some late breaking item on Seventh Avenue."
Mil Batten (1986)
In 1986, rumors of a move from New York to Dallas began to seep through the company. Such rumors were not new. They had surfaced sporadically since Batten's days. As Batten explained, a Dallas move would make a lot of sense from a financial and operational perspective. The Penney tower needed costly refurbishing. Manhattan was very expensive and space was limited, with Penney now renting several floors in two other buildings .
There were other arguments as well. Getting to work in Texas would be remarkably easier, thereby conserving associates ' time and energy for the tasks at hand. Then there were time zone communications, an often critical issue in national retailing . At 5 p.m., when many New York Office associates had to leave to catch their commuter trains, an afternoon of action still remained in Los Angeles. In the central time zone especially with everyone driving to work and able to arrive earlier and stay latercommunications within the whole company would be much easier and greatly improved.
Travel would also be easier and more efficient. Dallas had an outstanding airport and was an airline hub fairly near the geographic center of the United States. And it would be far, far easier getting to flights in Dallas. Associates could fly out of Dallas in the morning and still do at least a generous half-day's business anywhere in the country, usually with lower fares as well.
And then there was the easier and much less expensive lifestylean aspect that had grown to paradisiacal proportions to those commuting to Manhattan.
Also not new were rejections of Dallas. Although never publicized, through the grapevine the rank and file knew that three Dallas proposals had been killed in Don Seibert's administration alone. He had recommended against them, and the board had voted the motions down. Although the arguments had been the same, Seibert had echoed Batten in citing the serious intangible costsas well as the loss of experienced personnelthat such a move would inevitably cause.
Therefore, since Howell said he wished to be careful and certain, late in 1986 an external group was contracted to evaluate the move. The work was done in secrecy because of the fear of unwanted press coverage before any decision was reached. There was a substantial antimove faction at the top, and at this point they assumed two things would come out of this evaluation:
The bare numbers would, without a doubt, be very seductive.
All the same, the answer would be no. As before in the Batten and Seibert years , there were just too many aspects to such a move that were antithetical to the way JCPenney operated. Seibert had killed the move. Howell, as Seibert's man, would certainly do the same.