In the book of Genesis, God directs Abraham and his family to Canaan (Palestine), a land of plenty that would bloom out of the desert. God promises that in return for absolute faith, the bountiful land will become the everlasting possession of Abraham's descendants. But a split in the family tree (Arabs this way, Jews that way), along with other casualties of time, have confused the covenant to this day. And if things can go amiss with the Almighty's plans, it has been known virtually from the time of Abraham that the schemes of mere mortals are extraordinarily vulnerable. Even a plan as dazzling and seemingly fail-safe as Bill Howell's move to Texas.
Basically, Howell directs his people to Dallas (a land of easy commutes, affordable swimming pools, and wonderful produce) and promises that in return for absolute fealty, everyone (and some more than others) will enjoy greater accommodations, escalating success, and everlasting security.
"You have to understand that there was a kind of technician's mentality or tunnel vision at work here," said Duncan Muir, Penney's senior PR executive. "And other than those who refused to moveand that's another storyI don't think my attitude at the time was much different from that of anyone else headed for Dallas. The workaday quality of life was going to improve significantly. And everyone felt it was justified. Howell's deal, after all, made it all a gift."
Muir was actually Howell's advance man. He introduced himself at the then two major Dallas dailies and the major TV outlets (where he was interviewed on camera), and he spoke to the Chamber of Commerce as well as virtually every other significant luncheon club and civic group . And he made a great impression , emphasizing JCPenney's values to the community (beyond the obvious financial impact):
"And I believe," he would often end his speeches, "you'll find that the J. C. Penney Company is a truly outstanding corporate citizen. We will lead in the United Way and variety of other civic duties . We will pay our vendors and our taxes within two weeks of receiving invoices. And we will otherwise treat people exactly the way we would wish to be treated ourselves ."
He would then pause, look around the room, and continue:
"James Cash Penney's first store in 1902 was actually called The Golden Ruletruth. He ran the only cash-and-carry store in the rough mining town of Kemmerer, Wyoming, and he could have introduced himself to customers with, ˜Hi, I'm Jim Penney, and Cash is my middle name !"
Another smile and a pause. Then:
"But he didn't. He just offered the best prices and service anyone had ever seen. And to this day we still doand we still believe in the Golden Rule."
Muir would then tap his suit's lapel pin.
"And to this day every single one of our executives wears a lapel pin just like mine. It has four letters HCSCthat, from our first convention in 1913 in Salt Lake City, have stood for the company's watchwords: Honor. Confidence. Service. Cooperation."
He would then pause and smile one last time, adding:
"A little corny, maybe. But that's the way we are. And we're something else, too. We're surprised and pleased by the Texas brand of friendliness we have found here. You have made us feel welcomed, and we are really thrilled to be coming to Dallas!"
In truth, of course, not everybody was.