By  on December 21, 2010

NEW YORK — Myron E. “Mike” Ullman 3rd, J.C. Penney Co. Inc. chairman and chief executive officer, received the Yale School of Management’s Legend in Leadership Award on Thursday, honoring an unorthodox, high-powered career that has taken him around the globe.

“He can manage adversity, innovate and instill pride and confidence in the people working for him,” said Kay Koplovitz, chairman of Liz Claiborne, chairman and ceo of Koplovitz & Co. and founder of USA Network, who presented the award and recounted Ullman’s career path.

Ullman worked at IBM “through the summer of love” in 1967, became a White House Fellow, entered retail at the ground level in a Sanger-Harris warehouse, worked at Wharf Holdings in Hong Kong and rose to ceo of Macy’s and group managing director of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

But Ullman doesn’t sit in an ivory tower. Duncan L. Niederauer, ceo, NYSE Euronext, cited Ullman’s selling-floor and service innovations, his knack for motivating employees and “really pushing the administration on job creation.”

His interest in robotics also surfaced during the ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria, but it’s more about getting students into it, via Penney’s sponsorship of FIRST (“for inspiration and recognition of science and technology”), a nonprofit organization that stages student robotics contests. Ullman said Penney’s has supported hundreds of high school teams building robots. Asked to name the crucial challenge of a ceo, Ullman said motivating employees so they are inspired. “They want to feel that they are really involved,” he said.

“With Mike, there’s no personal grandiosity,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean of the Yale School of Management. “There isn’t any ideology. He’s an unbelievable listener. He’s anthropological. He tries to understand the intrinsic logic and legacy of the enterprise.”

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