In 1989, all the new buyers and other green personnel added a more unsettled aspect to Penney headquarters ”where people were still recovering from the rigors of the move south. And the time had rolled around for the quadrennial HCSC inductions. Perhaps sensing a need to remind associates of the solid history of their company, or to distract them from the puzzling problems of diminishing sales, or both, W. R. Howell directed the communications department to make a show of the HCSC ceremonies.
The event was held at the largest Dallas/Fort Worth airport hotel and produced on a scale never seen before. Encompassing nine days, waves of associates came in for a day and a night. Two-thousand-plus inductees were greeted by a foyer and ballroom that had been transformed into a JCPenney time trip. After the lights dimmed, stirring visuals driven by swelling original music led to Howell's keynote module. Next, there was an enveloping mythic history leading to a " magnificent " modern company worthy of everyone's pride and commitment. The induction ceremony followed, capped by an effective production module that wrapped the show and spilled attendees into a sumptuous reception that had been laid out during the show. The evening's banquet and entertainment were equally first rate.
Nevertheless, many inductees and visiting associates felt compelled to contrast aspects of the show with realities of the current Penney Company:
Howell's keynote described a bold organization where empowered associates could and routinely did take risks. Hello? The company's now-extreme addiction to process (including the locked-in consensus management mode) made W. R. Howell himself virtually the only one "empowered" to "take risks."
The expensive affair seemed to be either a tasteless mistake or an obvious diversionary tactic. Participants had discussed the serious drop in store sales, and it was obvious to all that, without some miracle , the company was heading into a serious downturn.
There was no miracle. Weeks after the equipment was packed and the sets were struck at the airport hotel, a jarring sequence of budget cuts and layoffs began . Eventually, hundreds of new and old associates from Dallas, New York, and even the field were let go. The quality of life may have been better and less expensive in Dallas, but morale for the Penney multitudes had taken a plunge. As Dickens wrote presciently without ever having the slightest notion of Big D, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times "
While ex-associates packed office belongings, bid colleagues good-bye , and walked out of Lincoln Center and Park Central, a special meeting was being held up the Tollway at the Aberdeen Building. Executive vice president and director of support services Terry Prindiville had day-to-day responsibility for planning and construction of the vast "Home Office" project. Now in his conference room were key members of Prindiville's team from the company and the architectural and general contracting firms that would build the headquarters. A model and plans, specifications, and deal documents were laid out on the expanse of mahogany. The working session had just concluded.
Prindiville rose and made some upbeat closing remarks, and then everyone else rose, shook hands, and left for a reception that had been prepared in the building's main floor restaurant. Prindiville lagged behind to dictate a simple message to his secretary for distribution around the executive suite. The big project, it said, had now officially begun.