An easel in Howell's conference room displayed a big glamour shot of Lyn St. James standing in a logo-spotted jumpsuit beside her Indy racer . She looked like a movie star, but this was the real thing. Not only a female pioneer on the Indy car circuit, St. James had already established herself as a true competitor and was now looking for a big league sponsor to attack the Brickyard itself. St. James also had brains and brass. As a reflection of her self-promotion skills, there was a conspicuous bare spot in the heart area of her jumpsuit, a retouched "?" imposed upon it. Whose dominant logo would reside there?
Jim Oesterreicher was Howell's number-two man and the workaday architect of Penney's emergence from the grief of '89 “'91. Presently, he flipped his hand dismissively toward the photo. "W. R.," he said, "the ladies make it look nice, but I still don't get it. We don't sell tires or batteries anymore, so why are we even looking at this?"
Gale Duff-Bloom looked around at Kay Baker and subtly rolled her eyes. Baker, another PR executive under Duff-Bloom's wing, had been pushing the expensive sponsorship of St. James and had just made an adroit presentation.
Howell looked at Duff-Bloom and, in a very serious voice, said, "Gale, what do you think?"
"W. R.," she said, now seriously herself, "Jim has a point that's beside the point. We have launched the ˜Spirit of the American Woman campaign ”which this company backed 100 percent because most of our customers are women. And, as Kay said and I reiterate, if we did that and if we can get St. James at Indianapolis with all that coverage plastered with ˜Spirit of the American Woman and the Penney logo for about the cost of some network spots, where's the argument?"
"You've just heard it," Oesterreicher said to Howell. The chairman shut his eyes briefly and then looked only at Oesterreicher. "Jim, it's not a plug for tires and batteries. It's about who we are, what we believe in. This woman has overcome great odds, just like Mr. Penney did." He turned and winked at the women, adding, "And I like the numbers ." He hesitated, teasing the moment, then beamed and said, "It's a go."
And, indeed, when St. James raced in the Indy 500 the following Memorial Day, her "JCPenney"/"Spirit of the American Woman" car and W. R. Howell himself seemed as prominent as the driver herself.