Summarizing the Exemplars

For the past eight posts, I have focused attention on six men whom I have called exemplars. I offered summary biographies of J.C. Penney, John Wanamaker, Webb C. Ball, George Washington Carver, James J. Hill, and W. Clement Stone. In each brief biographical sketch, I emphasized certain personal characteristics that enabled them to achieve great things. Each of those people excelled in a different field or calling, from retail sales to railroad building and improvement to scientific experimentation to insurance sales and motivational speaking and writing. Yet, they all shared certain qualities that made their respective achievements possible.

 

 

 

Each of these men overcame seemingly insurmountable difficulties and adversities, things that would have prevented lesser men. Sometimes it was the loss or absence of parents at a young age. In other instances, it was poverty or lack of a formal education. Many of these men faced nay-sayers, skeptics, people who believed they could not succeed, people who sought government favors that would give them an advantage over their competitors.

Each of these men, however, also had a dream, or a vision, and a determination to do what was required to make their dreams reality. But they each determined that in the pursuit of his dream he would not violate his fellowman. Rather, he would serve his fellows, achieving his goals by helping others achieve what they needed or wanted. He would treat others as he wanted others to treat him.

Each of these men exhibited a strong work ethic. He was not afraid to sweat, to get his hands dirty, to work hard and put in long hours to further his plan to achieve his dream. He did not expect easy or quick success but was patient and persistent in pursuing his goals.

Each of these men also recognized that he needed the help of others–employees and partners–to bring his dream to fruition; therefore, he treated his associates well and sought to help them improve themselves. Whether those associates were retail sales clerks, line crewmen, newsboys, insurance agents, or students, each of these men sought to make others’ success and growth one of his major objectives, knowing that if that happened he, too, would succeed.

But perhaps most importantly, each of these men was a man of faith in God, some to a greater degree than others, but men of faith nonetheless. Each man realized that true wealth and success are not to be found in this life but in that which is to come. Although many of these men did achieve great wealth, they knew that there was more to life than material things. And they became philanthropists, giving to great causes that helped others. One–Carver–never gained wealth. Yet, he was truly a wealthy man and gave what he had–himself, his time, his knowledge.

Just as Jesus Christ taught His disciples when they argued about which of them would be considered the greatest in His kingdom, each of these exemplars knew that his ultimate success depended on his being a servant to others, not a lord over them, even though he was the boss. Christ said, “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:26). As Matthew recorded the incident, Christ said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:11-12).

These characteristics are what made these men great exemplars. They are the qualities that made America great as a nation. They are the qualities that must be predominant in American society if America is to remain great. And they are the qualities that will always produce greatness of personal character.

An exemplar is someone whose life is worthy of being followed and imitated. Each of the men we surveyed over the past several weeks exhibited qualities worth developing and practicing: honesty, integrity, hard work, vision, faith, perseverance, determination, etc. May each of our lives reflect those same qualities. And may we become exemplars in our own right–whatever be our calling or field of endeavor–for someone else.

But wait! There’s more!

Jesus Christ was more than a mere exemplar or great teacher whom we should strive to emulate. He is God, the Savior who gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. And He offers Himself as such to every individual. And each individual must make a decision to accept or reject Him as Savior and Lord. No matter how many fine qualities of character one possesses, no matter how hard he works or how lofty his ideals and goals, if he has not faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, he is not worthy of being followed. To follow such an one is to be deceived and disappointed in the most important part of life–the soul. Christ stated it so clearly and succinctly: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26)

The great question that everyone throughout history has had to answer–and the question that each of us today must answer–is the ages-old question, “What shall I do with Jesus?”

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

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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]