For Myron E. (Mike) Ullman III, the chief executive officer of J.C. Penney Co., being a White House Fellow for 12 months between 1981 and 1982 was “a pivot point” in his life.

“It was a very rich experience,” Ullman told WWD. “It opened my eyes and gave me a much broader perspective of where you can have an impact.”

Ullman has received the John Gardner Legacy of Leadership Award presented to “outstanding leaders” who are alumni of the White House Fellows Program. Gardner, the past president of the Carnegie Corporation, created the White House Fellows Program 50 years ago, along with President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Before becoming a White House Fellow, Ullman was chief business officer at the University of Cincinnati, and earlier worked at IBM, handling the Proctor & Gamble account. But the government experience altered his career path. The veteran retailer said that being a White House Fellow helped him see the possibility of combining a career in business with being a community service activist. The government stint also helped him realize that by working in retailing, specifically the department store sector, he could do both.

As a White House Fellow, Ullman was assigned executive assistant to the U.S. Trade Representative William E. Brock III. “It was a real job, with professional, educational and travel experiences…It was a stressful year but one that was a good investment in terms of learning and stretching your capabilities, and getting you completely out of your comfort zone,” he said. After leaving the White House, Ullman joined the former Sanger-Harris department store in Texas, putting him on a path that would fulfill his ambitions.

“Mike is a selfless leader in the public, private and humanitarian sectors who focuses on the people, companies and causes he champions,” said Jennifer Kaplan, director of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.

Ullman vacates his post as Penney’s ceo in August and will be succeeded by Marvin Ellison. Thereafter, Ullman will continue for a year as Penney’s executive chairman. He recently completed his six-year term as a director, and later chairman, of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Ullman has served for the last 13 years as chairman of Mercy Ships International, a global medical and human services charity, and is a director of F.I.R.S.T, a non-profit organization that sponsors high school robotics competitions. Ullman is also a trustee of Gordon College and serves on the boards of Starbucks, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, and the National Retail Federation, of which he is a past chairman.

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