Chapter 15: Bill Howell


What had happened ? Why was the move ordained? Well, first of all, this was 1986, not the '60s or '70s. This was also Howell, not Seibert or Batten. Having transferred to New York from the Western Region only a few years before, Howell was a typical store nomad who was much more focused on operational efficiencies. Furthermore, he did not see the former negative arguments as applicable in this day and age. Fashion influences, for one, now originated in many places other than New York ”and please name the vendor who wouldn't happily bring sample cases to such a big buyer.

The Big Move

Never even a fake New Yorker, Howell was also not bothered by the city's predictable fury over the company's exit. When the news hit the street, the Daily News was already being hawked with a front-page headline that read:

"J. C. Penney Moving to Plano (That's ˜Plano as in Drano) Texas"

Speculation that moving would cause a mutiny of experienced talent cut no ice with Howell, either. Surveys were produced that assuaged various concerns, and plans went ahead for the move. Bill Howell, basically, just wanted this thing to happen.

In 1988, cattle still grazed on the land on which the new JCPenney headquarters would eventually rise ”land that was a stunningly astute purchase. Located in what would become one of the nation's premiere corporate parks ("Legacy"), it had three times the acreage necessary for a sprawling headquarters complex. And this land was located at the corner of Highway 121 (a limited-access straight shot to Dallas/Fort Worth airport) and the Dallas North Tollway (straight shot downtown). By the year 2000, when Penney's stock had nosedived, the company's excess property would be worth many times the original purchase price.

Now the huge retailer moved, [1] and the temporary arrangements were elaborate. Among the march of ironies in this book, it is interesting to note that the company's office-proximity situation was worsened rather than improved by the move. In New York, Penney had occupied its 6th Avenue tower and floors of two other buildings within easy walking distance. But now the company was scattered in four north Dallas locations that were accessible only by freeway travel. The major address was Lincoln Center, where most of the Dallas newcomers and new hires took over three big buildings. (This was the complex visually known to millions as the home of amoral J. R. Ewing's oil empire on the television show Dallas .)

The most important address, however, was the just-completed Aberdeen Building two exits up on the Dallas North Tollway. There, leasing all seven floors, the company located its executive suite and several support departments.

For visitors from New York, the Aberdeen Building would hold a surprise. Oddly, in view of the comparatively simple accommodations left behind, here the top Penney executives had large suites, including individual conference rooms. The largest measured nearly a thousand square feet.

One of the smaller offices on the Aberdeen executive floor belonged to Gale Duff-Bloom. Newly established as director of investor relations, she was developing a rapport with Howell while working hard and effectively to present the JCPenney case to Wall Street. In a few chapters this narrative will follow Duff-Bloom's ascent from offbeat trainee to the executive suite. For now, she joined a few other observers in concluding that the fancy offices were the result of two factors:

  1. The more senior executives were suddenly quite prominent in Dallas and, as never before in New York, those who sought social and peer acceptance were able to easily find it in Big D. [2]

  2. The premium building and new offices still represented a big savings per square foot compared to Rockefeller Center. So company officers must have thought "Why not?! "

[1] Credit and systems, stand-alone Penney departments, had already moved to Dallas a few years before.

[2] Despite JCPenney's efforts in the later part of the twentieth century to move away from the company's commodity merchant identification, the retail and brand elite continued to see Penney as dclass and its executives as comparative hicks (as always, there were exceptions; Mil Batten, who retired to run the NYSE, being the most obvious). In Texas these executives seemingly got their revenge .




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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