Mainly to make a speech, Ralph LaRovere was happily back in New York. After a morning meeting, he headed for a midtown Manhattan hotel. LaRovere was vice president and director of merchandising for Penney's home and leisure division at Legacy. An articulate man, he had gone to work for Penney in 1960 directly after college and service in the army. Today a pro who had risen through the old merchandise department in New York, he had always prized the results of the creative process. He and his wife, for example, had been avid theater-goers in New York, preferring off-Broadway shows. And today he was speaking to a business audience he knew well. His subject, and especially its manner of presentation, was calculated to stir them to action in a tricky area.
The J. C. Penney Company and its headquarters complex were so large that LaRovere would have no idea that his words that day would be tinged with a particular irony. He would be appealing to his audience for the very thing that, in another corner of the organization, would be meeting stupid and even cruel resistance. LaRovere was speaking to the New York Textile Council and his main message was:
Be more creative!
Find and cherish those who are talented, no matter how weird and different they might appear. Technology, the textiles hot button of the day, was great. But future survival, let alone prosperity , would hinge upon success with new looks and designs. This was a surprising message, meant to jolt his audience, and LaRovere would hopefully add a clincher. The J. C. Penney Companya huge buyer of textile productswas depending upon the mills and manufacturers to come through.
LaRovere had been convinced that a really effective speech required taking risks. So would this approach work? Challenging an audience like this often succeeded. But often as not it failedthe audience feeling shoved around and tuning out. Which would it be? There was no way to tell before just doing it.
It was noon when LaRovere finally parked his briefcase with a checker and quickly worked the reception in the foyer of a large dining room. Then he retrieved his briefcase, joined the Textile Council officers who had invited him, faked his way through a convivial lunch , and then faced the whole room from the podium as the featured speaker for this quarterly meeting. He looked composed and confident. Inside, however, he was as nervous as he'd even been in his career.
He opened with a surprising warm and fuzzy about how good it was to be back "home" in New York. Then he said:
Broad alliancespartnerships among everyone in the entire merchandise pipeline from fiber to retailwere the only way to succeed in the emerging global economy.
Then the main point:
To feed those alliances, there was an urgent need to find, cultivate, and reward artistic talent. Good designers were money in the bank.
And he concluded with a pitch to:
"Farm the talent, nurture the talent, support the talent in our various institutes and colleges. And then in your companies. And, again, understand the talent." [HE PAUSED AND THEN INDICATED THE WHOLE ROOM]
"And to repeat, because it cannot be overemphasized, it will be the new designs and design concepts that will be increasingly important. And these will not come from your salesmen , your bean counters, your technical people. These will come from the people with God-given creative talent and good training who are to be absolutely cherished. So you must become flexible enough to properly utilize your talent once it's in place. Remember, the most important thing is not your process, not the way you used to do things. It's your product. It's the way you look and feel tomorrow that will capture business in the next big fashion trend that is identified or even created by your talent."
And now he dared to smile and say, "Thank you." After what seemed to him like an eternity of a pause, his audience burst into big applausehe even heard a couple of people shout "Bravo!" (this was New York, after all). He had entertained them with his message and they bought it with gratitude.