Video available here: http://www.kaltura.com/tiny/rdcx1
The Doll Family Lectureship on Religion and Money was established by Henry C. Doll ’58 and his family. It reflects the family’s longstanding interest in the subject of philanthropy and its relationship with religion. The Doll Family gift aims to inspire the University community toward a greater understanding of the many varied relationships between religion and money, including philanthropy, personal and corporate stewardship, and wealth and poverty.
The 2016-2017 Doll Family Lecture in Religion and Money will mark a departure from tradition. This year, our Doll event will be an interview by David W. Miller, Director of the Faith and Work Initiative, of Myron Ullman.Over the last 30 years, Mike Ullman has successfully led five major global enterprises. Based in Hong Kong, the United States and France, he has transformed and managed businesses engaged in retailing, luxury goods manufacturing, property management and development, hotel management, computer services and public transport. In August, 2016, Mr. Ullman retired as Chairman of JCPenney Company after leading a comprehensive turnaround of the company after an unsuccessful strategy by the previous chief executive. Mr. Ullman recruited his successor who became chief executive in August 2015 as Mr. Ullman served as executive chairman. Mr. Ullman was first elected Chairman and CEO in late 2004 and subsequently led the company to the highest sales and profit in its 110 history. Mr. Ullman is a director of Starbucks Corporation and serves as lead director. He is also on the board of Taubman Centers, and is vice chairman of Gordon College. He recently completed a six year term as director and chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Board of Dallas. Mr. Ullman has been the chairman of Mercy Ships International since 2002 having been elected vice chairman in 1994. From June 1999 to January 2002,he served as Directeur General of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest and leading luxury goods manufacturer and retailer based in Paris. From February 1995 until June 1999 Mr. Ullman served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of DFS Group Limited, the travel retailer, majority owned by LVMH. Mr. Ullman served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of R.H. Macy & Co., Inc. from April 1992 to January 1995. Mr. Ullman was Group Managing Director of Wharf Holdings Ltd. In Hong Kong from 1986 to 1989. In 1981, Mr. Ullman was appointed a White House Fellow by President Ronald Reagan. He has been awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship and recognized by Yale School of Management in 2010 with its “Legend of Leadership Award”. In 2015, the White House Fellows Association selected Mr. Ullman for the “John W. Gardner Legend of Leadership” award.
JC Penney’s Passionate Leader
Myron “Mike” Ullman III understands the value of a makeover. As chairman and chief executive officer of the J.C. Penney Company Inc., Ullman has aggressively overhauled the 108-year-old retail chain to boost its profile and earnings. He has signed on stylish designer brands, including Ralph Lauren, Nicole Miller and Liz Claiborne, and boosted the appeal of JCPenney’s own products. To herald these changes, the CEO of the Plano, Texas-based company premiered an advertising campaign during the 2010 Academy Awards broadcast with the apt slogan “New look, new day, who knew.”
Ullman credits his winning strategy to both the improved quality of JCPenney’s merchandise and the improved interactions between sales employees and customers. “To be successful in business, you have to motivate people and get them to work together in teams,” he says. “The more you care about their welfare, the better they will do and the better the company will do.”
Early lessons on the job
The University of Cincinnati alumnus has learned such people skills the hard way. After graduating from the UC College of Business with a bachelor of science in industrial management (BSIM) in 1969, he worked for IBM and then returned to the university seven years later to join the administration as a business officer. While attending a football game, Ullman accidentally slammed a car door on then UC President Henry Winkler’s hand. If that gaffe wasn’t bad enough, the young administrator again injured Winkler during a game of racquetball, giving him a black eye.
“It certainly taught me humility,” says Ullman of his youthful mishaps. He recovered the respect and support of his boss by working harder and, with Winkler’s help, was promoted to a vice presidency. “He had a lot of confidence in me, more than I had in myself,” notes the JCPenney CEO of his first mentor. “That led me to realize you have a better chance of succeeding if you make your associates and colleagues successful rather than focusing on yourself.”
Those early lessons helped Ullman thrive in the retail industry, starting from the ground up at Federated Department Stores’ Sanger Harris chain in Dallas. Working in the stockroom came as something of a shock, he admits, after spending the previous year as a White House fellow, globe-trotting with President Ronald Reagan’s U.S. trade representative, William Brock. “I went from the White House to the warehouse,” he recalls of his transition in the early 1980s. “I had to humble myself and learn about new ways of merchandising and working with associates.”
The budding retailer went on to acquire management experience by running Wharf Holdings, Ltd., a Hong Kong conglomerate owned by a UC classmate, Peter Woo, A&S ’70, Hon. ’94. He recommends that business majors cultivate such beneficial friendships during their student days by getting involved in different organizations on campus. “It is as much about the people you meet as it is about the organizations,” Ullman says. He encourages graduates to keep in touch through alumni groups, acknowledging, “that may not always be easy, but it is usually worth the time spent.”
Leadership through charity work
Volunteering has always been a part of Ullman’s career with payoffs both personal and professional. Such unpaid work in an orphanage while living in Hong Kong led the businessman and his wife, Cathy, DAAP ’70, to adopt two Chinese girls and finally have the daughters they always wanted in a family of four sons. Both the girls and Ullman cope with different medical issues, and these personal struggles have led the businessman to get involved with health-related charitable projects, including the building of the children’s hospital at the University of San Francisco.
For business students, he says, working for a not-for-profit organization can be as valuable as corporate experience. Ullman currently serves on the boards of Mercy Ships International, a global medical effort, and the New Hampshire-based charity FIRST, which sponsors robotic competitions to motivate high school students to pursue careers in science and technology. His advice to recent graduates who can’t find a job during the current economic recession is to “volunteer for a charity or a community group where your skills will be put to good use and you can develop leadership abilities. Giving back is more important than ever these days.”
Rising through the retail world
Ullman’s neuromuscular condition, which prevents him from walking long distances, was diagnosed in the 1980s, but it didn’t slow him down. In 1989, he joined R.H. Macy & Co. Inc., and, when the company faced bankruptcy five years later, he sold the retail chain to his former employer Federated Department Stores. He stayed on after the merger to help with the transition and then landed a job at Duty Free Stores Group Limited (DFS), the world’s largest travel retailer, where he was chairman and chief executive officer.
After DFS was bought by the French conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy • Louis Vuitton S.A. (LVMH), Ullman joined that parent company to serve as director general, group managing director of its luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Givenchy. The new job meant traveling between LVMH’s headquarters in Paris and his family home in San Francisco. That long commute and concerns about his health led Ullman to retire in late 2001 and move to his ranch in Colorado where his wife raises horses and miniature animals. He served on various corporate boards, including those of Starbucks, Polo Ralph Lauren and Segway, whose transporter he often rides.
Ullman joined JCPenney in 2004 after company board member and Washington, D.C., powerbroker Vernon Jordan Jr. decided he was the right man for the job during a meeting at his Martha’s Vineyard home. Ullman wavered on whether he should accept the position but ultimately saw it as an opportunity to complete his unfinished career.
In carving out a more upscale identity for the JCPenney chain, Ullman has tapped his retail experience to build the brand. In 2006, the CEO convinced Sephora, a French cosmetics company purchased by LVMH under his watch, to set up European-style boutiques within JCPenney stores. Ullman then hired the fashion company Polo Ralph Lauren, for which he previously served as a director, to produce a line of “American Living” designs. He opened a flagship store in Manhattan in 2009 to give his former employer Macy’s a run for its money and now has plans to open two more big-city stores in New York City and San Francisco later this year.
Still, his battle to win the hearts and pocketbooks of customers isn’t over. “There is still the misperception about our company that we haven’t changed,” Ullman says. “Part of business leadership is staying ahead of the trends, and figuring out future opportunities as opposed to what is being done today. You should expect to see something new every time you come into our stores.”
As for his enthusiasm for the retail world, Ullman says he developed it during his undergraduate days at UC. Through the university’s co-op program, the retailer discovered he did not want to be an engineer and, instead, pursued courses in business. “I learned the importance of taking on different kinds of experiences and then pursuing what I was passionate about. Being passionate about what you do is important.”