JCPenney Founder James Cash Penney on Business Principles

JC Penney logo at store entrance
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The first retail store opened by James Cash Penney was not named JCPenney, in homage to its founder. Rather the first store James Cash Penney opened was named in homage to the principles upon which one of the largest U.S. retail chains was built. When reading the most quotable quotes from one of the most famous leaders in the U.S. retail industry, it's clear that the business principles and the personal values of James Cash Penney were one and the same.

Penney's first dry goods and clothing store was called “The Golden Rule” for one very important reason. Penney believed that the Golden Rule applied to all aspects of life, and he was driven by a mission to build a retail business using the Golden Rule as its philosophical cornerstone.

Reading through the most quotations about business principles from James Cash Penney, it's obvious that leadership character was equally as important to him as profits. Both what he achieved and how he achieved it was equally important to Penney.

In 1913, “The Penney Idea” was drafted, outlining Penney’s business values and principles. More than 100 years later, the company’s “Winning Together Principles” were guiding employees at all levels, perpetuating a principle-centered business with values that extend far beyond the basic task of generating profits.

These business quotes from James Cash Penney reveal the original values and principles that guided the founder as he was building what would become one of the oldest American retail chains, and one of the most valuable U.S. retail brands in the history of U.S. retailing.

Quotes About Personal Values and Business Principles

  • “I would never have amounted to anything were it not for adversity. I was forced to come up the hard way—Honor, Confidence, Service, and Cooperation.”
  • “When this business was founded, it sought to win public confidence through service, for it was my conviction then, as it is now, that nothing else than right service to the public results in mutual understanding and satisfaction between customer and merchant. It was for this reason that our business was founded upon the eternal principle of the Golden Rule.”
  • “The friendly smile, the word of greeting, are certainly something fleeting and seemingly insubstantial. You can’t take them with you. But they work for good beyond your power to measure their influence. It is the service we are not obliged to give that people value most.”
  • “In setting up a business under the name and meaning of the Golden Rule, I was publicly binding myself, in my business relations, to a principle which had been a real and intimate part of my family upbringing. Our idea was to make money and build business through serving the community with fair dealing and honest value.”
  • “The Golden Rule finds no limit of application in business.”
  • “Honor bespeaks worth. Confidence begets trust. Service brings satisfaction. Cooperation proves the quality of leadership.”
  • “The public is not greatly interested in saving a little money on a purchase at the expense of service.”
  • “Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement.”
  • “Profits must come through public confidence, and public confidence is given to any merchant in proportion to the service which he gives to the public.”
  • “We told store managers that, unless they knew their communities and unless they were prepared to enter sympathetically into community life, they could not make a success of their stores.”
  • “A merchant who approaches business with the idea of serving the public well has nothing to fear from the competition.”
  • “Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.”
  • “Do not primarily train men to work. Train them to serve willingly and intelligently.”
  • “In retailing, the formula happens to be a basic liking for human beings, plus integrity, plus industry, plus the ability to see the other fellow’s point of view.”