J.C. Penny’s CEO Gives Advice On Reaching The Top

By Robert Stitt

When we look at the person in the CEO suite, sitting in the large chair, and earning our monthly paycheck in less that a day; many of us are quick to judge. Do they deserve that office, that chair, that salary? What makes them so special? They were probably born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

Sometimes, the CEO was a child of privilege that doesn’t deserve their title, suite, or package. Before you cast too many stones, however, understand that a lot of CEOs came up through the ranks the hard way. Take, for instance, Marvin Ellison.

Ellison is the 51-year old CEO of J.C. Penney. He did not come from wealth or a fancy education. According to the Dallas News, Ellison was the fourth of seven children. To earn his business degree from the University of Memphis, he worked “the graveyard shift at a convenience store, as a janitor at a women’s department store and drove a plumbing supply truck with no air conditioning in the summers. He was a certified equipment operator in a warehouse,” until he took up a part-time job at Target earning just $4.34 per hour. He found his home.

Ellison spent the next 15 years working his way up through the ranks at Target. He then moved to Home Depot where he became the company’s executive vice president.

J.C. Penny found itself in a tough situation the last few years. They lost billions of dollars and really needed to be turned around if the company was going to survive. The company believes that Ellison is the person who can do just that, and they may be right. His first moves increased the company’s revenues by 3 percent. While that may not sound like much, 3 percent of a $12.6 billion dollar company is a lot of money.

For those that would like to follow in Ellison’s footsteps, the CEO says the best thing to do is find somebody who has the job you want and take notes. “The easiest thing to do is to find someone in a job you’d love to have in five years and figure out how they got there. Reverse engineer their path.”

Ellison also warns against getting too far ahead of yourself. “A lot of times when you’re looking so far down the road, I tell my team you can trip on the curb at your feet. It’s important to have balance — short-term balance, long-term balance — and not get ahead of yourself.”

Ellison’s plan to save Penney’s is to work hard and not forget what made them successful in the first place. “We can love our customer and keep grinding to be successful,” Ellison said. “We don’t have to blow up the company.”

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