When Gordon Curry and I arrived at the south rotunda guest desk with two receptionists, I looked around in awe as Curry asked for directions. We knew this was one of two rotundas and that a third, the grand rotunda (which we had seen from the outside), anchored the symmetrical center of the great building. On our way up to our meeting on this wing's third floor, Curry chuckled and said, "Did you know that, as huge as this place is, there still isn't enough room? Everybody's staying put at Park Central, and I heard the credit division's moving into a building near the Aberdeen."
"Maybe they should've just built a cluster of high rises here instead of getting so fancy," I said.
"Maybe so," said Curry, with a shake of his head.
Mike Restaino was a pleasant young man, a dozen years an associate. He had just recently come to Plano after working in stores and district and regional offices (he was on the breadth-of-experience track). His background prompted an unpredictable turn in the small talk before we got into the assignment. Curry started it with an innocent question. "Well," he said, spreading his hands, "how do you like it?"
Restaino nodded at the question and thought for a moment. "Good and bad."
Curry and I exchanged glances, and then Curry said, "We were just talking. So what's your complaint, Mike?"
"Well, guys, I've just come from the stores. And I gotta tell you, when most store managers see this palace, they're not going to be too happy."
"More than that," said Restaino. "It's almost like the powers that be have no respect."
"How do you mean?" I asked.
"I'll give you an example I keep thinking about. A couple months ago I had a meeting in this store manager's office and a train goes by outside. We had to shout. Then, after the noise, he has to get up and straighten the pictures on his wall." Restaino waved at the complex. "But here we are in the lap of luxury. Have you seen the executive suite yet?"
"Not yet," said Curry.
Restaino stood up and nodded for us to follow him. He led us to an expanse of glass lookingto the rightdown upon the cafeteria fountain and the gardens that rose beyond to the parking garages. He motioned the other wayto the left. We looked below at nicely placed potted plants arrayed across a wide expanse of special roofing aggregate. This had to be the roof of the cafeteriaalso serving as a visual deck for the occupants of the offices stretching around a wide crescent on the second floor below. Restaino motioned. "From right under us all the way around to the far corner on the other side is the executive suite."
"A lot of executives," I said.
"Just a dozen," said Restaino.
"And people thought Aberdeen was a little plush," Curry said.
"Kennedy and I were down there yesterday for a meeting. Everybody has a big reception room, a big conference room, and an office that's even bigger. There's also a kitchen, a couple of VIP living rooms, and you should see the boardroom, Gordon." Now he pointed across the broad executive crescent. "And see all the glass at the far corner over there? That's Howell. Someone said six rooms. And look." Restaino gestured at the beautified cafeteria roof, the fountain, and terraced gardens leading up to the brick and copper cupola background of the garages. "From down there you don't see people, just water and greenery." Turning to lead us back to his office, he shook his head with a sad smile. "I love this company, but I don't know." He looked at Curry. "What would Mr. Penney've thought about this?"
Not much. The last New York headquarters at 1301 6th Avenue was a tower reasonably acquired in the 1960s when the old man was still coming to the office regularly. It had certainly been practical and comparatively modest. Executive offices had been uniform, simple, and not large, and executives used the same elevators and plumbing as everyone else. But things were certainly different at the Taj MaHowell in Plano. Without a doubt, the old man would have been highly displeased.
We all sat down again, and Restaino outlined the assignment. Basically, it was to be a speech about JCPenney's constant reinvention of itself, its continuing change to meet new market conditionsas it related to changes in the home division.
On our way out of the building, I looked at Curry and said, "I'm a little confused on this reinvention angle."
"Yes, it's a problem," Curry said with a smile. "Since it basically doesn't exist."
"I wondered. But you didn't say anything."
Curry chuckled. "What was I going to say? ˜Mike, that's really a stupid idea? I don't know where Kennedyor Mikegot such an idea."
"Maybe from Oesterreicher?"
"No, he's into fixing things, not ideas."
"So, where do I go on this?"
"Well, I can have Carol dig up some history, and then you can see if there's a through-line somewhere, something that relates to that stuff Mike gave you on how home is evolving. Make sense?"
"No." Both of us laughed.
"Well, who said it was easy? That's why we pay your rate."