‘Grinding to succeed’ at Penney’s

In March 2015, Marvin Ellison addressed 1,000 J.C. Penney store managers. They didn’t know him well; he had arrived at Penney just three months earlier as its president after a successful career at Home Depot.

Ellison wanted to introduce himself to the managers. He decided to open up in an unusually personal way.

He admitted that leaving a thriving Home Depot for Penney, a retail giant struggling to survive, proved a hard call. So he sought advice from his 73-year-old father.

His father, a former insurance agent, said that he took a risk years ago accepting a commission-based sales job. But he knew he’d earn more money in insurance sales than clinging to a salaried position in a big organization.

Ellison then told the crowd that his father would knock on doors, getting many of them slammed in his face. He’d eat a sandwich in his car for lunch, and then resume his door-to-door route.

“He called it grinding to succeed,” Ellison said. “My father, who didn’t graduate from high school, said his college-educated colleagues didn’t understand how he was outselling them.”

Ellison’s father shared his grinding philosophy with his co-workers. But they thought, “Oh, that’s beneath me.”

Through economic booms and busts, Ellison’s father kept “grinding.” He attributed his perseverance to his success in the insurance business.

“Then he asked me,” Ellison told the audience. “Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and grind every day?”

Sharing such a personal story, Ellison won over the managers. In the year since he became Penney’s CEO, he has engineered a remarkable turnaround.

— Adapted from “Marvin Ellison’s story is classic J.C. Penney,” Maria Halkias, www.dallasnews.com.