“I would like to speak to Mr. Penney, please.”
The next voice I hear is J.C. Penney's. It's James Cash Penney, one of the greatest merchants of the last century and founder, at the time, of the largest retail chain in the nation. I'm actually on the phone with him!
I'll tell you more about the phone call in a moment. First, let me explain what led up to it.
I am in my early 20s. The Chamber of Commerce in Alliance, Ohio, has put me in charge of their Annual Meeting. A pretty bold move on their part for entrusting someone so young with the task. As one of my responsibilities, I have to get a keynote speaker for the meeting.
The year before, the Chamber drew 600 guests to its Annual Meeting. Being a bit obsessive and wanting to make a good impression on community leaders, I'd like to attract 750 men and women. I know it will take a very well known name to get that kind of a crowd.
I've just finished reading a book written by J.C. Penney. I am transformed. I call Ed Ahrens, manager of the local Penney's store.
“Ed, do you think there would be any possibility of getting J.C. Penney to come to Alliance to speak at the Chamber's Annual Meeting? Would you be willing to call him?”
“No. Not a chance. No way. And don't ask me again to try to get him. I would be embarrassed to even make the call.”
So I do what you would expect. I go ahead on my own. I make the call. And now you know about the phone call. Here's how the conversation went.
“Mr. Penney, I just finished reading ...