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Team Building - Mr. Penney, I Presume

Dec 13, 2007
Summary: Team building may include listening to your staff and asking for their expertise in decision-making. You may be the team leader, but if you do not take their concerns to heart the concept of 'team' will not be believed.

James was not a likely candidate to be the owner of any business. He was often bullied by coworkers and regularly had customers stolen from him by competing sales associates.

His father was a Baptist minister and James believed in the golden rule - do unto others and ye would have them do unto you. This was a tenet he followed throughout his famous career.

It was James' father that instilled the courage to make a go of it when others did not live by the same rule of order. His father's confidence would sustain him when life was not fair. James understood this because his own father was taken early in life.

James moved to Denver, Colorado in 1897 for health reasons and found work at the Golden Rule stores. He found the work agreeable and the company prospering. Those who hired him were well pleased with his ability and would reward him for his efforts.

Thomas Callahan and Guy Johnson would eventually ask James to join as a partner in their store chain and he agreed. By 1902 James opened his own store in Wyoming. He made sure that his store was run on a cash only basis when competing stores were agreeing to barter or credit. However, James worked to ensure the product he sold were high quality and at a fair price. Residents liked his approach and rewarded him with their long-term business.

It wasn't long before James changed the name of his stores to reflect a more personal touch.

James was a consummate team builder. He never referred to those he hired as employees. To him they were associates and he made it their job to find another associate that was equal or better than they - and he, in turn, would hire them. By 1924 James had opened his 500th store and people across the United States wondered when James Cash Penny would open a new store in their town.

J.C. Penney was not a rich man by way of family wealth, did not possess a college education and he was a genuinely nice guy, but he knew how to inspire his 'associates'. He did not attempt to belittle them because they had not achieved the same success he had because he understood that the business he was building was only as good as those he counted as co-laborers.

The foundation of his business set a course in team building that has continued long after his death in 1971. James Cash Penney was 95 years old.

Team building may include listening to your staff and asking for their expertise in decision-making. You may be the team leader, but if you do not take their concerns to heart the concept of 'team' will not be believed.

The environment of business may seem significantly altered from a one-room store in Wyoming where J.C. Penney set out to build his fortune, yet the team building environment he started in the early 1900's is worth emulating more than 100 years later.
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