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Penney’s hard-work/light-touch Seibert

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Don Seibert put in ungodly hours for the J. C. Penney department store at the start of his career in the 1940s.

When Seibert rose to district manager in the Twin Cities, he traveled from store to store, checking and correcting any problems and then driving for hours across the prairie to the next town. As he ate dinner, he’d review the next store’s records.

A true story shows how Seibert’s hands-on, always-on approach eventually made him CEO: 

Seibert arrived at a store at 7 a.m. Finding nobody there, he crossed the street to a coffee shop. Finally, Penney’s janitor arrived and let Seibert in. Seibert went to the manager’s office, where he saw price lists—signaling overdue orders—stacked on two tables.

Instead of jumping down the manager’s throat when he arrived, Seibert said simply “So, I see you guys are running a little late with the price lists,” then offered to roll up his sleeves and help. After working out a plan to get the orders in, Seibert called New York to expedite them.

By late afternoon, when Seibert headed out, he knew what he had to do. The manager was a good merchant who’d simply gotten in over his head. In a few weeks, Seibert moved him to a smaller store. Within two years, Seibert was running one of the chain’s most productive districts.

— Adapted from Celebration of Fools: An Inside Look at the Rise and Fall of JC Penney, Bill Hare, Amacom.

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