A ‘Penney’ for Your Thoughts

As Target’s head merchandiser, Ron Johnson was successful.  Then Steve Jobs hired him to create those sleek gadget-filled Apple stores.  Opening 300 stores with incredibly high average sales per square foot, Ron made Apple Stores the top American retailer by this measure, with annual sales over a billion dollars. Johnson seemed a miracle merchandiser.

In 2012 Johnson received fifty million dollars to sign on as the CEO of 111 year-old J.C.Penney.  Seventeen months later, the giant retailer was in ruins and Ron Johnson was fired.

Attempting to make his new employer as “cool” as his former one, he replaced coupons, clearance racks, and sales with designer boutiques.  He fired many key employees, shuttered famous Penney brands and began airing commercials that mocked J.C. Penney customers as stodgy.  Within a year, sales were down a jaw-dropping 30% and the company was out of cash.

How did such a brilliantly successful retailer make such fatal errors?  Well, he was no longer selling highly desirable products available nowhere else and he no longer had an unlimited budget or Steve Jobs as mentor and manager.  He dismissed critics often telling employees that there were ‘believers’ and ‘skeptics,’ leaving little doubt as to the probable fate of the skeptics.

If someone with Johnson’s impeccable credentials, degrees from Stanford and Harvard along with his success at Target and Apple can stumble so badly, each of us in our own lives, whether in our families or in our work, can easily do the same.  What is the antidote?

Do you remember that Isaac and Rebecca had two sons?  Rather than parenting as a unified couple, unfortunately, Isaac had a special relationship with one while Rebecca enjoyed a special relationship with the other.

For instance, after Esau married two Hittite women, Rebecca made no secret about how she felt towards her daughters-in-law.

Rebecca said to Isaac, I am disgusted with my life on account
of the daughters of the Hittites…

(Genesis 27:46)

Nonetheless, Esau ignored his mother’s displeasure.  He only reacted once he learned that his father also despised the Hittites.

Then Esau realized that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the eyes of Isaac,
his father.  So Esau went to Yishmael and took
Machalat the daughter of Yishmael…as a wife for himself.

(Genesis 28:8-9)

Even then, unlike his brother Jacob who sought a wife from his mother’s family, Esau spurned Rebecca’s family and turned to his father’s side.

When Isaac died, Esau is named ahead of Jacob in the burial service on account of his devotion to his father.

…his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
(Genesis 35:29)

Yet, when Rebecca died while Jacob was working for Lavan far away, ancient Jewish wisdom notes that Esau played no role in her burial.

Jacob, with guidance from both Isaac and Rebecca, becomes the father of Israel while Esau, disdaining a relationship with his mother, becomes the father of Edom and Amalek, eternal enemies of Israel.

God created a world where a physical contribution from both male and female produces children. The physical world provides a window into the spiritual one. Children do best when receiving guidance from two adults who are committed to each other and to the child, but who come from two strongly different vantage points – as different as male is from female.

Heed, my son, the command of your father,
and do not forsake the teaching of your mother.
(Proverbs 6:20)

Esau missed out on the benefit of the guidance and constructive criticism that suited Rebecca’s background and personality more than Isaac’s.   Some of us are blessed enough to have received input from two wise parents. All of us, especially those who didn’t, need to seek input, advice and yes, even criticism, from diverse people worthy of giving it. If Ron Johnson had been better at doing so, he might still today be doing for J.C. Penney what he did for Target and Apple.

Exposing ourselves to deserving differing views is a valuable asset in both the family and business worlds. Our Income Abundance Set contains many such transformational teachings. With emptier pockets after tax day, we hope you take advantage of this week’s sale to gain practical wisdom and abundantly fill them again.


Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here

What is the lesson God wants us to learn from the book of Ruth?

Sheila C.

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s ANSWER HERE

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