Class Act

Carole Sloan, March 24, 2008

In this chaotic world of business, there are few times that someone or something can be called a “class act.”

Earlier this month, JCPenney's Steve McKeever, one of the icons of the home textiles retailing arena, sent an e-mail to a wide range of suppliers around the world announcing his plans for retirement in mid-year 2008. For those of you not in the decorative bedding segment of this business, I'm going to quote verbatim his thoughts and words, simply because I believe that the marketplace could use a major infusion of class and dignity — characteristics that have disappeared as competitive challenges and ways of doing business have changed.

After advising suppliers that JCPenney was again combining its store and direct — catalog and Internet — buying functions, and introducing the two pros who will follow him, he addressed his career:

“I am extremely happy to tell you that despite numerous offers for me to stay at JCPenney, I have stayed true to my original plan and will retire from JCPenney mid-year 2008.

“It has been a great run for me at JCP and I owe a lot of my success to you, my supplier partners. My formula was a pretty simple one — give the customers a good deal; JCP needs to make a good profit; and so do suppliers. A simple but successful equation!

“Thanks again for everything and I know our paths will cross many times in the future. And please continue to support JCPenney, Laura and Sonya the way you have supported me.”

In our last issue, we celebrated the roles that three such classy folks played in the retailing and home furnishings arena. But sadly, those were obituaries.

In this space now we celebrate someone who has dedicated his talents to a company over decades — as well as to his industry.

How many people in today's dog-eat-dog world of business would have the sensibility to compose a letter like that one Steve sent to the marketplace? This business is not a one-sided operation. It requires the participation of parties with lots of give and take. It's the give and take that have sadly — and dangerously — been excised from the formula.

P.S.: To the Penney hierarchy — Steve did not send me this message — but several dozens of the recipients did.

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