THINK!

I first saw W. Clement Stone when I was a junior or senior in college and attended a meeting of the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) meeting where he was the featured speaker. He was there at the request of Dr. Walter Fremont, the Dean of the School of Education and one of the teachers who most influenced my teaching career.

Stone lived and taught what he and Napoleon Hill called success through a positive mental attitude (PMA), which closely resembled Dr. Fremont’s trademark positive faith attitude (PFA). So strongly did Fremont believe in PMA, or PFA, that several weeks before Stone’s guest appearance before the ACT, he had distributed to all his upper-level education majors a copy of Stone and Hill’s book Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. I devoured the book in a matter of days, my nose stuck in its pages when I should have been studying for my classes.

There’s a derogatory statement that “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” But that was neither Stone nor Fremont. In teaching a positive attitude, both men lived what they taught.  They were living exemplars of their philosophy. (I summarized how Fremont did it in an earlier post on this blog. See the post of June 29, 2017.)

Stone was born on May 4, 1902. His father died when Stone was only 3 years old, leaving his family in debt. His mother, a dressmaker, could hardly make ends meet, so Stone got a job hawking Examiner newspapers on the streets of Chicago when he was 6. But he quickly realized that if he was to make a profit in competition with the numerous older and bigger newsboys, he’d have to find some other way than on the street corners. He decided to try selling papers to the patrons of fine restaurants. After all, they had the money, they were not busy with anything else and might enjoy reading the paper while they dined, and no other newsboys were selling there.

The first time he tried to sell in a restaurant, he sold only one paper before the manager angrily tossed him out. He waited until the manager was busy with an influx of customers and reentered the restaurant. That time, he sold three papers before being kicked out. Undeterred, he persisted in entering that and other restaurants, selling more papers each time. Although the managers were all perturbed with him and perplexed as to how to end his intrusions, the patrons loved him. They admired his “politeness, charm, and persistence,” and they finally convinced the managers to allow him to sell there regularly. So successful was he that he hired several smaller boys to sell for him, always doing so politely. By the time Stone was 13, he owned his own newsstand.

When Stone was 16, he dropped out of school and moved with his mother to Detroit, where he helped his mother run an insurance agency. With only $100, he started his own agency, the Combined Insurance Company, at the age of 20, and by 1930, he had 1,000 agents working for him. He had a strong desire to succeed, and his thinking was heavily influenced by his reading habit. He read the rags-to-riches books by Horatio Alger (pictured below a sampling of his books) and was always reading books aimed at self-improvement. And he practiced what he learned from those books. He was strongly convinced that one’s success or failure depended on his attitude. By 1979, his company’s assets topped $1 billion.

But Stone was also convinced that one’s success depended on living by the Golden Rule (not unlike J.C. Penney, whose life was covered in an earlier blog post, too) and carried an obligation to help others succeed. He began helping others through his motivational speaking and writing and his philanthropic endeavors, giving millions of dollars to educational and religious causes.

When Stone spoke to the ACT members the night I heard him, I was at the hall before the doors opened. I got an aisle seat about two rows back on the left side facing the stage. A few minutes before the program was to begin, a distinguished-looking gentleman in a dark suit and a large black bow-tie and sporting a pencil-thin black moustache sat down in the front row seat diagonally across the aisle from me. I immediately recognized W. Clement Stone from the photo on the dust jacket of his book. I could have stretched forward and across the aisle and touched him, but I dared not. My heart raced with anticipation of his speech.

Dr. Fremont opened the meeting and introduced Stone, and, amid polite applause (I don’t think most of the attendees in the standing-room-only crowd realized who their guest speaker was), Stone made his way with firm, determined steps to the podium.

After offering a brief thank-you to Dr. Fremont for his invitation to speak and his introduction of him, Stone launched calmly and without notes into his speech about how we could be successful teachers upon graduation. It probably lasted no more than 20 minutes, but I remember only two things that he said.

First, he explained what he called his “R2A2 Principle”: Recognize, Relate, Assimilate, and Apply. Then, near the conclusion, he said, “The real key to success in teaching–or in any endeavor of life–is to. . . .”

Here he paused, as though waiting for our ears and minds to catch up with his deep statement. Finally, he finished: “think.”

He paused again before repeating his statement: “The key to success in teaching–or in any endeavor of life–is to think!”

He stood starkly immovable and stared out at the faces before him. One could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

“Think!” he repeated. Then he turned slowly from the podium and strode with measured tread across the platform, and with every step he said, “Think!” He stepped slowly and deliberately down the two steps off the platform and across the front of the hall to his seat near me, still repeating with each step, “Think! Think! Think!” As he plopped elegantly into the seat, he called out a final time, “THINK!”

After what seemed like a long time, during which the audience sat in stunned silence and Stone stared straight ahead, the place erupted in thunderous applause.

AT the time, I left disappointed, let down, unfulfilled. I had taken valuable time from my busy schedule to hear this great, successful man, and that’s all he had to say? But the longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve realized the truth of what Stone said that night.

Stone was basing his philosophy on what he often called “the world’s greatest self-help book,” the Bible. He believed, as Proverbs 23:7 states, “As he [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Fill your heart and mind with good, positive, faith-filled thoughts, and you will produce good, positive, faith-building words and deeds that will produce a truly successful life, no matter what your calling.

As I’ve read and studied Stone’s philosophy over the years, I haven’t always agreed with him on everything, and I’ve seen many people use his principles to pursue  pure materialism and teach a heretical “health-and-wealth gospel” that is not the true gospel of the Bible. But as a teacher, I used–and continue to use–his R2A2 Principle and continually try to encourage and motivate my mind and spirit with his PMA and Dr. Fremont’s PFA ideas.

Stone died on September 4, 2002, at the age of 100. He had overcome early hardships, developed a vision and set goals for achieving it, practiced habits of hard work, survived the Depression, built a business empire, motivated others to succeed, and gave millions of dollars to worthy causes. He left a wife, a son (one of three children), 12 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. And he left the rest of us an example. But when I hear his name, my first thought is that single word that in my mind defined W. Clement Stone: “THINK!”

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

He Cut His Teeth on the Golden Rule

Although JCP is currently going through some tough times and people associate it with declining, often gang- and crime-plagued malls, such was not always the case. And it was not always known by the bland, nondescript monicker JCP. What originally made the company different from the modern company was the life, philosophy, and influence of one man: James Cash Penney.

Humble Beginnings

Penney was the seventh of twelve children born to a poor farmer/Baptist preacher and his wife near Hamilton, Missouri, on September 16, 1875. His parents wasted no time instilling in him their life values: love of God, honor, hard work, self-discipline, self-reliance, respect for learning, and the need to treat others as they themselves wanted to be treated.

Because money was scarce and his parents wanted him to learn its value, Penney began working when he was only eight. With money he earned, he bought his own clothes. He raised and sold livestock.  When he graduated high school, while continuing to work the farm, Penney got a job as a clerk in J.M. Hale and Brothers dry goods store. Just as he seemed to be learning the ropes of selling, he contracted tuberculosis and doctors advised him to move to a drier climate. He relocated to Denver, Colorado, where he quickly got a job in another dry goods store. Saving his money, he also opened a butcher shop, but it failed because Penney refused to treat one influential customer differently from his other customers.

Expansion

The following year, Penney accepted a job working for Callahan and Johnson, owners of a small chain of dry goods stores named the Golden Rule Store. The partners liked Penney’s honesty and work ethic, and they soon asked him to go to Wyoming to open a new store. Penney did so and soon used his savings to buy into their partnership and open his own Golden Rule Store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, on April 14, 1902. He and his wife and baby lived in the store’s attic. (Interestingly, Penney’s store was located beside a saloon, a business the very antithesis of everything he believed in.)

Penney operated his store on several principles that demonstrated his philosophy of life and business: high-quality products offered at fair prices on a “cash-only” basis and proper treatment of both customers and employees, whom he called “associates,” a radical concept for the time but common practice among retail stores today. Soon, he had three stores in Wyoming. By 1907, Callahan and Johnson had sold the entire business to Penney.

Penney’s goal was not to have simply a chain of stores but “a chain of good men,” so he hired and trained associates carefully, ensuring that they worked according to his principles. By 1912, he had 34 Golden Rule stores, and their combined sales exceeded $2 million. He changed the name to J.C. Penney Company and moved the headquarters to New York, where he could be closer to the manufacturers of the goods his stores offered. But he continued to operate them by the Golden Rule. The company motto was “Honor, Confidence, Service, and Cooperation.” By 1924, he had opened his 500th store.

Griefs

But Penney faced his share of trials like everyone else. He eventually overcame his TB. But his first wife died of pneumonia in 1910. He remarried, but his second wife also died in 1923. He married yet again, and that marriage lasted until Penney’s death in 1971.

Despite one grief after another, Penney continued steadfast and used the profits from his business to help his fellowman. He established farms to raise pure-bred Guernsey and Angus cows to ensure pure milk and meat for the public. He started a retirement community for preachers. He spoke widely and wrote numerous books and pamphlets to encourage people, especially youngsters, to work hard, live clean, exercise initiative, and treat others as they would want to be treated.

When I was a child and my parents took me with them to shop at the J. C. Penney store in Knoxville, Tennessee, I stared in awe at the huge portrait of Penney that greeted us as we came through the main entrance. It hang in a prominent position over the escalator that descended from the second floor. To me, he looked so calm, quiet, confident, and dignified, and even as a child I knew that he was successful. There was something different about him and his business. And I knew that my parents enjoyed shopping there.

Legacy

Penney died in New York on February 12, 1971, and was buried in a Bronx cemetery, but what a legacy he left! For many years, the store remained the same. But in recent years, it has changed. The name, the logo (several times), the policies, the atmosphere. We seldom shop there any more. Apparently, many others also have gone elsewhere because the company is struggling today. I wonder if it’s because they’ve lost the vision and rejected the philosophy of the founder. The company would do well to review his principles and make adjustments as necessary.

Here are a few things that this exemplar said that both businesses and individuals could benefit from.

  • “I do not believe in excuses. I believe in hard work as the prime solvent of life’s problems.”
  • “I never trust an executive who tends to pass the buck. Nor would I want to deal with him as a customer or a supplier.”
  • “It is always the start that requires the greatest effort.”
  • “Responsibilities are given to him on whom trust rests. Responsibility is always a sign of trust.”
  • “I cannot remember a time when the Golden Rule was not my motto and precept, the torch that guided my footsteps.”
  • “Success will always be measured by the extent to which we serve the buying public.”
  • “It is the service we are not obliged to give that people value most.”
  • “A merchant who approaches business with the idea of serving the public well has nothing to fer from the competition.”
  • “There is in everyone more latent than developed ability; far more unused than used power.”
  • “Men are not great or small because of their material possessions. They are great or small because of what they are.”
  • “Determine to do some thinking for yourself. Don’t live entirely upon the thoughts of others. Don’t be an automaton.”
  • “We get real results only in proportion to the real values we give.”
  • “I believe a man is better anchored who has a belief in the Supreme Being.”

Recommended Reading: J.C. Penney, Fifty Years with the Golden Rule (Harper & Brothers, 1950) and Orlando Tibbets, The Spiritual Journey of J. C. Penney (Rutledge Books, 1999).

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]