Myron E. “Mike” Ullman 3rd, the indefatigable industry leader who withstood both physical and boardroom challenges in a most unconventional, expansive and influential career, has departed for real this time from active retail duty.

This story first appeared in the September 9, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I am at a reflective mode at this point because I’m retired for the fourth time. So after a while you start to say, ‘What’s this all about,’” observes the 68-year-old Ullman, half-seriously. He remains as quick with the quips as he is with spewing statistics on consumer spending, employment and market share to assert his point. And while Ullman may be retiring, he’ll remain in the picture as executive chairman of J.C. Penney Co. Inc., after serving twice as chief executive officer.

In the Nineties, he was chief executive officer of Macy’s when it was bankrupt and battling against a hostile Federated Department Stores takeover, and later he became directeur général (general manager) of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in Paris, where he led a series of acquisitions, and president of the selective retail group of LVMH, where he led the global expansion of Sephora. He was a White House Fellow, once ran the Hong Kong-based Wharf Holdings, headed up Duty Free Shops, was vice president of business affairs at the University of Cincinnati, and at IBM, was an international account manager.

“There are two things I really like about retailing that are really easy to articulate,” Ullman said. “One is there is a lot of granularity. There is data everywhere. I just love that part of it. For me, the toughest thing about stepping out of the ceo job is it stops the data. I get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and by 5 o’clock having read WWD and all the numbers from the previous day I can tell you pretty much what happened. More importantly, it’s about the people. What differentiates great businesses are the quality of the climate you create for your people and your ability to understand how to get from here to there.”

He stepped down as Penney’s ceo on July 31, handing the reins to Marvin Ellison, leaving on a high note, unlike his unceremonious departure in 2011, which came at the behest of activist shareholders who were upset over Penney’s negative comps at the time, and market share loss, but were ultimately wrong in their judgment. Ullman returned to Penney’s in 2013 to right the ship after the disastrous tenure of Ron Johnson.

Dyslexia, Ullman revealed, made it tough for him to get through college, but didn’t slow his spiraling career filled with accomplishments. Early on, he pioneered the planning-allocation process at Sanger Harris for a consolidating Federated, and did the same at DFS where he was ceo and led a turnaround. As a young up-and-coming executive vice president at Macy’s, he brought a systems-challenged department store chain into the computer age beginning in the late Eighties. “Mike was faced with naysayers and critics but pushed ahead to update and modernize the credit operations by adapting the Sabre (Federated) credit system to include Macy’s and made extraordinary strides in modernizing Macy’s computer systems. Ed Finkelstein and Mark Handler [the ceo and president, respectively] spent their time on merchandising, visual and private label. Their eyes glazed over when it came to the back-office functions,” said a former Macy’s executive. “When it came to the company’s computer operations, no one could snow him with jargon or empty knowledge.”

As Penney’s ceo, he accelerated private label development, introduced Sephora, which became the linchpin to capturing customers and drawing better brands to the selling floors, and he changed the culture. After the recession, Penney’s started slowing, and after a near-fatal car accident in 2011, ironically occurring right after the first board meeting with two new activist members — William A. Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management and Steven Roth of Vornado Realty Trust — the board asked him to leave.

Ullman was replaced with former Apple executive Ron Johnson, who orchestrated a reinvention strategy that almost destroyed the company, but Ullman returned as ceo without a contract so he didn’t have to lock into a long tenure and wouldn’t appear to be benefiting by the company’s travails. He reinstated much of what Johnson dismantled including coupons, price promotions and private labels; brought a sense of calm to associates; gave suppliers confidence that a disciplined effort to restore the business was underway, and created enough liquidity to stabilize the business. And he was very involved in picking his successor.

“Coming into the business now, we have plenty of things to work on, but we don’t have the risk of whether the company is going to survive,” says Marvin Ellison, who last month became ceo succeeding Ullman.

Colleagues describe Ullman as a tenacious workaholic maintaining a grueling pace despite being handicapped with limited mobility forcing him to use a Segway. He’s also compiled a record of service on boards and charities — including past chairman of the National Retail Federation, past chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and current chairman of Mercy Ships International.

“Mike defines what it means to be a servant leader,” said Howard Schultz, ceo of Starbucks, where Ullman is a director. “What he was able to do at JCP, restoring trust and confidence with people and the street against all odds shows an unbelievable level of execution. Not classically trained as a merchant, he’s got great instincts of understanding customers, consumer behavior and how to build a great organization. Most people don’t know the sacrifice he made to save the company. Mike’s health issues for most people would be obstacles. But he’s never seen them as anything but a blip on the road.”

“Often times you put retailers into specific categories — a great merchant, a great operator, forward-thinking with technology. Mike is kind of all of the above,” said Ellison. “It’s a rarity in any business that you find someone very well-rounded in multiple areas of the business. Mike’s key strength is you just can’t put him in a box and characterize him.”

Here, Ullman discusses what it will take for Penney’s to survive; his near fatal accident; why he knew in five minutes that Marvin Ellison was the man to succeed him, and how it felt to be ousted by the Penney’s board and wooed back 18 months later.

Myron E. “Mike” Ullman,

WWD: What about returning to Penney’s as ceo a second time and seeing the decimation. That must have been tough.

Mike Ullman: It wasn’t fun the first five months, getting yelled out all the time and getting letters [from activist investors] about how incompetent you are. I worked in West Africa as chairman of Mercy Ships over the last 15 years. There are people there that carried their kids on their backs for 100 miles to see a doctor. I don’t have any bad days in retail. What’s the worse thing that could happen to me? They could fire me.

WWD: What’s it like being a retail ceo these days?

M.U.: It’s not the easiest of tasks in this environment. There has been a lot thrown at the sector.
I [visited] Zara in 2000. It was just starting and Mr. [Bernard] Arnault [chairman of LVMH] and I talked about how this is the way fashion is going to be done. It turned something around in a week and the fashion industry was turning things around in a year. If you just fast forward to H&M, Forever 21, Mango and Uniqlo and the various alternatives, you would say the department store industry has been hit pretty hard from the outside. Basically, aside from [Penney’s] none of the department stores have that stuff. If you take something like Ross and T.J. Maxx, manufacturers making for Macy’s and us now have another channel making extra goods. T.J. Maxx is bigger than Macy’s. That all happened at the same time as fast fashion came in. Then you have the recession, which was very, very hard on the inline stores in the mall. I told [then-Fed chairman Ben] Bernanke, probably in 2010 or 2009, that traffic was down 12 percent. I was at a Fed meeting and he asked me how was discretionary spending going. If you think about it, there is no gasoline or groceries in a mall. So the only reason you go to a mall is to discretionary spend, to a theater, to a food court or to a store. If the traffic is down 12 percent I would say discretionary spending is down 12 percent. He was intrigued you could be that precise. It was not something on his radar.”

WWD: How did you feel being asked to leave Penney’s by a board persuaded by activist shareholders and not too long after, being asked to come back?

M.U.: We spent months deciding should [the activists] go on the board, not go on the board. Both of them highly intelligent from different fields, real estate versus finance. They got on the board. The first board meeting was Feb. 28, 2011. I came out of the board dinner and got hit by a car which severed my skull from my spine. The guy was going 35 miles per hour. He T-boned us. I was in the hospital unconscious. Fortunately I lived. There is a 95 percent chance you don’t live with that particular injury. I would say that precipitated a search process. Not only had I been [at Penney’s] for six years, but now I’m injured. I was in a cast for 12 weeks, but I worked all but one week. It wasn’t like I was incapacitated, though that was when they decided to start looking for a successor. It was clear to me that the activists wanted to put Ron into the position much sooner than I thought was wise. I told them that 12 to 18 months made the most sense. He had never been a ceo. The board made a different decision. They made me executive chairman for three months to help in the transition. So I left. I was not bitter. I did not think it was the right idea. So if you asked me why did I leave [the first time], I think that’s what the board wanted me to do.

I had not made one call back to the company after I left. I had a noncompete, so I wasn’t hiring anybody away from the company. I was a member of a board of a very wealthy family, the Brenninkmeijer family that owns C&A. I spent a lot of time in Europe, I was a Starbucks lead director and chairman of Mercy Ships. I also have six kids. I was plenty busy. But I watched Penney’s from afar. It was hurtful. Forty-three-thousand people lost their jobs.

When I got the call to come back, from Tom Engibous, the [former] chairman, I was planning a Mercy Ships event in Dallas. I was coming out of the hotel and the cell phone rang and he said, “I have to ask a very difficult question,” and I said, “The answer is yes.” And he said, “How do you know what the question is?” And I said, “There is only one reason you are calling me.” He said, “We need to get together”….So we got together the next day and he went through some of the difficulties the company had and he said he didn’t have the votes of the other directors. He hadn’t talked to anyone else. I said, “I am happy to consider it, because it’s the best way to save the situation. I know the people. I know what the issues are. I will deal with whatever it is.”

I was completely surprised [by the call]. It never occurred to me.

I said I wanted to come back without compensation. I didn’t want the team to think I was getting some big package to come back and fix it. I said I would come back for a dollar. They said that’s not minimum wage. I said, “That’s your problem.” The way we resolved it was they said, “Why don’t we give you a million dollars; you can buy some stock.”

WWD: What was it like returning to Penney’s?

M.U.: I looked at it as a separate assignment. It was a different company. We were talking about reversing course on major issues. Suppliers had been disenfranchised. The associates were feisty but very scared. Nothing was going the right way. About 20 million customers left.

WWD: Customers are not so loyal to retailers anymore, so do retailers that stray off course get a second chance?

M.U.: Wards, Sears have a tough time getting customers to come back, but they didn’t have an abrupt run in the other direction [like Penney’s]. Customers that left Penney’s were disappointed St. John’s Bay was taken out of the store. They didn’t like the pricing. They didn’t like the lack of promotion. They didn’t like the fact they fired a bunch of people. But they were willing to give us a second chance, once we started to put the product back in the store. Once we enlisted our associates to be warriors, took charge of the culture, once we got the right people on the team. Thirty-nine vice presidents were brought in [by Johnson] that were there for the wrong reasons. It was pretty heavy-duty lifting the first couple of months. You might remember the activists were still saying I was the wrong person. I considered that their problem, not mine.

WWD: What’s the key to Penney’s survival?

M.U.: My strong belief is the future of retailing in our sector is creating a sense of discovery, excitement, newness, so there is always something to see when you come into the store. With Sephora, it doesn’t get much better than that. There is constant change. Frankly, it works online as well as it does in stores. Sephora was encouragement for us to develop Modern Bride [bridal and engagement jewelry], MNG by Mango for fast fashion, Call It Spring by Aldo, buying the Liz Claiborne brand, the Disney stores. The hair salon we are rebranding In-Style will be another Sephora-esque concept. J.C. Penney customers rely on the average price point being $15. Basically, the quality and style and price are central to their ability to look forward to shopping there. It’s hard to do — style and quality at that price. Not many people can do that. We have 50-some years experience building the product. The thing I brought to the equation was we didn’t have a design group. We were relying on manufacturers to design the goods. We now have 200 designers from the best schools…I would argue it’s the attractions, Sephora and all of these other [exclusive concepts] and delivering what the customer can afford in the family budget that gives J.C.Penney long-term viability. I think the business needs to be defined in the customer’s mind as the preferred place to shop. Part of [accomplishing] that is better analytics. So you know one-to-one who the customer is and what they want. Marvin is all over that.

There is also a huge advantage to having 1,100 stores, if they are interesting. Otherwise, it’s just real estate. At the end of the day, the customer wants to shop the way they want to shop. They may live in an apartment in Brooklyn and don’t want a package left at the front door if they’re not home. They may want to pick it up at the store.

WWD: So there’s a future for brick-and-mortar retail?

M.U.: Accenture did a study on Millennials. Conventional wisdom would have been that the Millennial is very digital and has less interest in the store. I think they studied 60 countries. Seventy-five percent felt the store is still extremely important because of two things: To touch the merchandise, and to be with their friends. They might look online before going to the store. The 75 percent felt digital should be part of the experience, but if you are a store-based company, it should be encouraging.

WWD: You call Sephora one of Penney’s attractions, as an exclusive. What’s the story behind bringing Sephora to Penney’s?

M.U.: Research we did found out that the average Penney’s customer spent $650 a year on beauty products; and the average department-store customer spent $650 a year on beauty products. The difference is [the Penney’s customer] was just buying the wrong stuff. They were shopping a discount store, a drugstore, shopping online or at Avon. My premise was if they were spending that kind of money, why wouldn’t they get [at Penney’s] the excitement and the newness and the core products that everyone else was buying? Sephora started off with only five stores at Penney’s. We had to prove ourselves. There were three things I promised Mr.Arnault [LVMH owns Sephora]. One is it would have the look and the feel of a Sephora; we weren’t going to put up some derivative that didn’t have the aesthetic, or different fixturing or different quality.

Second, the majority of the merchandise would be what the customer would expect to have in Sephora. We couldn’t have a reduced attraction, though we didn’t have every single brand. And third, we had to have service at or above what he had in the LVMH-Sephora stores, and that was the one most people probably thought we couldn’t do. Department stores didn’t have the reputation of essentially having a quality of service at that level, given the intensity of that kind of business. It took a lot of education for the associates. Let’s put it this way: Mr. Arnault only gave us five stores to start with. So I would say he was not exactly enthusiastic when we started. Now we are at 518 stores and accelerating the openings in the next couple of years. Clearly, it’s been very, very successful.

WWD: You were instrumental in recruiting Marvin Ellison from Home Depot to be Penney’s ceo. Why was he your choice?

M.U.: We kissed a lot of frogs but when Marvin sat down at the desk, within five minutes, I said, “You’re the guy.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “First of all, you care about the people, you explained to me in five minutes what you did to turn around the [Home Depot] business with the people. It was total common sense and it was exactly what we needed.” One of the things he said was that two-thirds of the people were in the back of the house and one-third in front. So Marvin reversed it. Ninety percent of the people who come into Home Depot are mad as hell. Something is broke. Sales associates when they meet someone have to say, “What project are you working on today?” That’s very different from, “Hi. How are you? Can I help you?” Customers always say no to that. If you ask what project you are working on today, it changes the attitude of the associate and changes the attitude of the customer. There was also this 40-page report the store manager got every Monday morning. Marvin changed it to three pages. He has done a lot of the same things for us. He’s a common-sense guy, but he is uberbright. He cares about people and he is a really good judge of talent.

WWD: What is your role as executive chairman of J.C. Penney?

M.U.: It’s a title. In fairness, it’s pretty much what we make it. Marvin and I at this point are very close, meaning we don’t have the same views on everything, but we are very much aligned on what the challenges are, what the opportunities are. He had the advantage of seeing the strategy before he even joined; he had the advantage of seeing what was working, what wasn’t, and what was important to change. So from this point, I feel I am an adviser. We talk every week. I show up for the five board meetings but I am there more than that.

WWD: How is your health?

M.U.: It’s still undiagnosed. It’s an undiagnosed progressive neurological something or other. I have had three major surgeries and my neck broken [by the car accident] so it’s complicated. But I am very pleased that my progression stopped progressing after my third surgery. I was fortunate to have the best doctors at Mayo Clinic who found a way to stop my progression.

WWD: You seem very into the data and analytics. How would you characterize your management style?

M.U.: I really don’t think about the analytics as much I think about motivating associates to envision something they thought they couldn’t do. I think that’s what a leader does. Managers make things happen. Leaders envision things happening. The analytics are just the tools that you use to help drive success. Everybody should have a vision of what they want to change to make it better. So that is a leadership culture. I would call that the Warren Bennis approach versus the Peter Drucker approach.

Every time I got a new assignment I tried to be quiet for a while and figure out what’s going on. What I perceived at Penney’s was that the team had done a pretty good job of centralizing the business, there was a culture of trust and a legacy of doing the right thing; the golden rule — all the things that Mr. Penney stood for. The things that weren’t part of the culture in my opinion were a focus on the competition, a focus on what had to change to make sure we would win.

One of my observations early on was if you wanted to change the company you had to change the management culture into a leadership culture. The way I characterize that would be how would your team envision thinking things differently that would present themselves three years from now. It’s not so much about your annual bonus; it’s how do we run the business. So the number one category for me was how do you change a 100-year-old company. I taught a leadership class every month for five years, to a cross-section of 750 people, 30 at a time, developing a compelling vision with your team, engendering trust, practicing transparency and candor and differentiating talent. Those were the four things they didn’t do.

Warren Bennis would say leadership is a learned discipline. Everyone had to come in with a vision. There was a buyer in contemporary sportswear, she said our vision is in three years to be the preferred choice for the moderate customer to have contemporary fashion. The senior panty buyer, she comes in and says, “We are going to cover the asses of the masses. She said “Our team came up with this. We think it’s great and we can rally around it.” So I said I don’t think it’s as good as you think. I said it could be shorter — we’ll cover your ass. I was being facetious but the idea was to get their mind around what are they really trying to accomplish. It changed the culture of the company. It created an esprit de corps that they are doing something together. If you just think about beating your plan to get the bonus, you want to get the lowest plan possible and beat it. That’s not necessarily the same motivation the company would have. We took that all away. We said look, it’s about three years, not one year.

WWD: What was it like working for Bernard Arnault?

M.U.: It was kind of a surprise. I tried to tell him I’m not French. I’m not moving to Paris and you might notice I’m handicapped. I said my family wouldn’t move to Paris. I think the board convinced me that I didn’t have to change my lifestyle too much. I have two handicapped children that we adopted from China that we could continue to be taken care of at my home in Colorado. I didn’t have to move at the time. It turns out we moved later. My deal was I don’t want a contract. I didn’t want to be beholden to being there for some period of time. They called it a one-day contract…The excitement of that assignment was a company very successfully acquiring pretty much heritage businesses built by families in Europe, and Mr. Arnault is very intelligent in terms of how he would take the businesses without destroying the essence of what the family had built and create synergies around production, marketing, store locations. During my tenure, we bought something like 20 companies and each has a separate story. It’s not a corporation buying companies. It’s personal relationships, understanding where it fits in the portfolio…One of the great strengths is with the portfolio theory — some brands ascending and getting funded, resonating with the customers; others might be a little sleepy and not yet ready for prime time. But things bubble up and the ones that are good are really, really good like Vuitton, Fendi or Dior.

WWD: What did you think is in store for Loro Piana, now owned by LVMH since 2013?

M.U.: I would think LVMH felt it filled an opportunity they could benefit from, whether it’s marketing, stores, manufacturing, fashion, aesthetic. Mr. Arnault is a very intelligent, capable guy. He has a number of kids involved in the business but I don’t think that was the logic for buying the company. I would go back and look at soemthing like a Fendi. We [LVMH] acquired Fendi from five sisters. It was a family business, very successful at the time. But I think joining LVMH improved the business, gave them more opportunities, better real estate alternatives, and the availability of talent within LVMH, whether it was finance, design or marketing talent;

WWD: You are on the Starbucks board. What do you think about Starbucks rolling out wine and is Starbucks the right setting to share a glass of wine?

M.U.: We have had a format, a test, going on for several years…for a customer to enjoy a glass of wine, a bottle of beer and what I would call casual food. They found out customers enjoyed it. It was quieter than a bar and it’s going to expanded across the country. I don’t know about every store. There are neighborhoods where it would resonate more than seeing on the expressway…Most of the materials [of Starbucks interiors] are kind of earthy. Most of the stores are kind of different, so I would say the ones that have the atmosphere I would say yes. If it’s on an expressway, I would say no. They have 17 design centers around the world. I think it’s one of the great strengths in that they are creating environments that every customer thinks is theirs. The place has become a community center of sorts. And it’s probably as digital as you ever met. Starbucks also understands the value of speed. Dwell time in [checkout] line obviously effects sales…Nobody takes a date for the first time to Dunkin’ Donuts. Nobody does a résumé in Dunkin’ Donuts. Nobody meets their kids in Dunkin’ Donuts. I live in a little town called Montrose, Colorado. When they first opened a store it looked like pretty much every other Starbucks store. Today it looks like a mountain town store, with pictures of mountains. But I doubt that will be a wine location, to be honest.

WWD: What are you most proud of, career-wise?

M.U.: I consider the two things I am most proud of to be two births: one, the planning and allocation process at Federated. The other was Sephora. The thing I am proudest of is I exposed my kids to different cultures, in the Asian continent, European continent, U.S. continent, Africa for Mercy Ships, Australia for DFS, so I had someone else pay for their “education” flying around all over the place.

WWD: Let’s talk about some of the darker days. When you were put in charge of Macy’s when it was bankrupt, didn’t you oppose the Federated takeover? Wasn’t it a bitter battle?

M.U.: When Ed [Finkelstein] was asked to leave and Mark [Handler] and I were co-chairmen, the judge said he wasn’t going to approve my contract because the creditors wanted to liquidate the company at $1.8 billion. I was on the stand. I had to justify my contract and I said, “Don’t we get a chance? It was April 27, and he said, ‘You have till November 5 to come up with a plan.'”…In the next four to six weeks we came up with a plan called “Rebuilding Macy’s.” The whole idea was we are not going to save Macy’s. We are not going to terminate Macy’s. We are going to rebuild Macy’s. So when Federated attacked part-way through the rebuilding process, their premise was we owed $800 million in debt so therefore you have to sell us the company for $3.2 billion.The judge appointed Cyrus Vance as the mediator and [that began] the dance we had for those months. The thing I would say about the fight was my responsibility as chairman of the board was not to fight with Federated but to get the highest price for creditors. The creditors would decide if they wanted to go with one side or the other. We were at $3.2 billion at one point. We got to $3.6 billion by me convincing Cyrus Vance and his colleagues and the creditors that we had bigger stores, more productivity, better private brands, a stronger team. Cy basically said to me , “You are about to lose because these other guys have cash and equity and you don’t have either.” So we rented a theater on Broadway and had the “Rebuilding Macy’s” show for creditors. All the creditors came. It was half-a-day. We had a fashion show. We had all the senior executives talk about the strength of the company and the creditors drove the price up to $3.8 billion the next day. So we sold the company for $4.150 billion, to be exact, which was a very good price for the creditors…It was a pretty intense. Bitter is not the right word. They may have been bitter because they paid a billion dollars more than they planned. The creditors were happy.

WWD: Did you want to run the combined the company?

M.U.: Actually, I had no intention of staying but they made me deputy chairman. I stayed with them for maybe three or four months. They made me stay on the board for a year. I had no interest in running the company.

WWD: Has price promoting gone too far and is there a way to go back to tamer days?

M.U.: It’s certainly much more aggressive than it used to be. It’s lost some of its excitement and luster and frankly even the cosmetics industry got a lot of out of control by doing gift with purchase, purchase with purchase, which became a form of discounting. if you were to ask our leaders in that industry today, they would probably go back and do it all over again. So Sephora had the advantage of coming to the U.S. without that aesthetic. The way they built their loyalty is through the Beauty Insider loyalty program, the excitement, the newness, the makeovers, the events. The sales promotion cadence is so out of control that sometimes it masks what really matters — do you have the quality, style and price that [consumers] want to buy, and do you have things they aren’t able to find someplace which is what I will call the attractions. The way I would look at it, if you came into my store and wanted to buy Sephora, it’s not price promoted so you are going to pay regular price. You don’t think twice about it. It’s never promoted. No 25 percent off this or that. If you came in and bought a couch, you would never think about paying full price. Nobody buys a couch at regular price. There are different forms of [pricing] in the same store and the customer gets it. Certainly, promotions are not helpful to gross margins if you haven’t planned it properly. Back in the early Macy’s one-day sale days, around 1989 to 1991, the mistake that was made was we took the merchandise down 25 percent for one day, then went back up the next day. The customer is not stupid. The customer bought all the best styles on the one day and the bad stuff that they didn’t buy is now more expensive the next day. You do that over and over for a while and all you got left on the floor is the bad stuff. That is exactly what happened. What they did to change it was to buy special product for the promotion, so you don’t have this up and down thing. But the customer likes to buy promotion. It’s wrong to think it’s bad to have an exciting promotion.

WWD: There’s only a few people who can say they’ve been ceos of the same company twice and you and Howard Schultz are among them.

M.U.: With Howard you can’t use enough superlatives. He is one of the most energizing, creative, passionate, demanding leaders. He keeps reinventing himself. He will say something that he will never do and a year later he will do it. That takes a lot of courage. He is passionate about the customer, the product and the place. I think he has created the fifth most-admired company in the world. Starbucks — they get the product, the people portion of it, the place. All three are home runs. The baristas are passionate about what they do. They know their customers. There’s reimbursement for college, stock options, medical for part-time. Getting the best coffee in the world is not easy to do. They work their butts off to get it. We went to Costa Rica with the board to show us how they encourage farmers to grow the right kind of coffee. The place is amazing.

WWD: What happened when Howard came to back to turn around Starbucks?

M.U.: He believed that the company was not going in the direction it needed to particularly during the recession. He closed the doors for a day. He retrained everybody to make the drinks properly. Let’s just say for argument that 90 percent were doing it right, but he sent a strong signal that we have standards. He stopped opening stores and closed 811 stores. It’s very similar in some ways to what I came back to. Essentially it was a restart. Starbucks was financially strong and struggling. Penney’s was both not financially strong and struggling.