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J.C. Penney Leadership and Business SuccessJ.C. Penney Leadership and Business Success


James Cash (J.C.) Penney (1875-1971)


American co-founder (pictured right) of J. C. Penney department stores in 1902.

Famous for his Christian business principles.


What did he say about leadership and business success?


1. Great people

He motivated employees (called associates) through:


a) profit sharing (see point 3).


b) training.

 J.C. Penney Leadership and Business Success

c) caring leadership

He was a fair but strict disciplinarian, for many years firing people for consuming tobacco or alcohol at work.

He was helped by William McManus (pictured right), with whom he set up, J. C. Penney.


d) recruitment and selection

He chose the right person for the right job and particularly liked people with purpose and goals .

“Give me a store clerk with a goal, and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals, and I’ll give you a stock clerk”, he said.


2. Customer service

His Christian love for others meant that he devoted his business life to serving his customers with:

  • empathy (seeing their point of view).
  • integrity.
  • friendship.

His aim was to make money and build success through serving the community with “fair dealing and honest value”.


3. Be determined

He overcame many problems, particularly the:J.C. Penney Leadership and Business Success

  • death of two wives (he is pictured right with his third wife, Caroline) .
  • loss of his huge fortune in the stock market crash in 1929.

He was helped by his Christian faith which stopped him turning to drink after the death of his first wife in 1910.


4. Christian principles

Penney lived by these principles:

J.C. Penney Leadership and Business Success 

a) the Golden Rule

(i.e. he never took advantage of others in life or business)

So he called his stores the Golden Rule Stores (one is pictured right around 1906).


b) customer service

Giving value and quality at a fair price.


c) employee share ownership

(so they could share in profits).


d) ethical policy

He tested any business policy or action with the question:

“Does it square with what is right and just?”


So his company motto was:

Honour, Confidence, Service and Co-operation.

 J.C. Penney Leadership and Business Success

5. Enterprise and innovation

When he was eight, his father, a Baptist preacher, said he would have to start buying his own clothes.

(his family is pictured right when Penney, in the middle, was 13 - courtesy of the JC Penney Archive)

So Penney earned some money running errands and selling junk and bought a pig.

His father told him to stop when his business had expanded to 12 pigs, and the neighbours were complaining about the smell!

 Successful innovations in retailing were his:

  • cash and carry policy.
  • Christian business principles (see point 4).
  • new products (including furniture and electrical appliances in the 1950’s and a mail order catalogue in 1962).


6. Quality

He was always committed to providing customers with quality products.

“Never will we sacrifice quality for an unreasonably low price”, he said in 1902.


7. Social responsibility


  • constantly supported charities
  • set up his own charitable foundation (which assisted with scientific, educational and community projects).



Key quote on interviewing and selection

Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.


Key quote on quality

Never will we sacrifice quality for an unreasonably low price.


Key quotes on customers

Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement.

Profits must come through public confidence, and public confidence is given to any merchant in proportion to the service which he gives to the public.


Key quotes on business success

In retailing the formula happens to be a basic liking for human beings, plus integrity, plus industry, plus the ability to see the other fellow’s point of view.

Every business is built on friendship.


Key quote on success

Geniuses themselves don’t talk about the gift of genius, they just talk about hard work and long hours.


Key quote on careers

No man can climb the ladder of success without first placing his foot on the bottom rung.

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