Inside Track: J.C. Penney's Johnson sees need for innovation

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 1, 2012 - 9:20 PM
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FILE - This July 31, 2009 file photo shows the main entrance of a J.C. Penney store in the Manhattan Mall in New York. J.C. Penney Co. is expected to report its earnings late Tuesday, May 15, 2012.

Photo: Mary Altaffer, Associated Press - Ap

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CEO Ron Johnson of J.C. Penney Co. will link business innovation and public policy when he addresses the 60th anniversary gathering of the Citizens League in October. Johnson was considered a retailing innovator during a 25-year career at Target and Apple before taking over Penney.

Johnson, 52, is the son of Verne Johnson, 87, who ran the Citizens League 40 years ago.

"I grew up in the Twin Cities in the 1960s and 1970s and lived there when I was with Target in the 1990s,'' Johnson said. "Minnesota was a leader in public policy innovation. And I was with Target and Apple during times of tremendous innovation, in great design of products at Target and new products at Apple. And it strikes me that government could use some innovation. Organizations can have boundaries ... that limit your ability to innovate. The breakthroughs come from those who ignore commonly accepted wisdom."

Johnson drove the opening of Apple retail stores, launching just as the tech world was imploding in 2001-02. But the strategy was embraced by consumers. Johnson, who is now driving a culture-altering, specialty stores-within-a-store strategy at Penney, is facing a tough turnaround of what had become a staid merchandiser amid lackluster results.

Sean Kershaw, executive director of the Citizens League, expects innovative things to come from the league's ongoing look at health care. America spends far more than other industrial countries on health care but our outcomes fall short of Canada, Germany and France.

"This is our 60th anniversary, but we are still intrigued by innovation, and we're attracting more and younger members," he said. "Ninety percent of health outcomes are not related to medical care. They relate to personal choices, lifestyles, environment and genetics. We'll show policymakers how to make better health policy decisions by helping citizens to improve their health."

You can register at www.citizensleague.org for the 6:30 p.m. program at the Nicollet Island Pavilion on Thursday, Oct. 25.

Anchor PlasticS PLANNING FOR GROWTH

Anchor Plastics of Golden Valley is a small local player in the manufacturing sector. Because its customers are other manufacturers, Anchor has a window into manufacturing trends. And Anchor reports that the sector is finally getting some help from the long-slumping housing industry.

"We closed the books at $2.1 million in sales in 2011, and this year we'll be close to $3 million,'' said President Steve Rogers, also the majority owner.

Anchor, which employs 19 people, is also adding several engineers and mold technicians. Last year, Anchor added a seventh plastic injection molding press -- an all-electric, 165-ton Cincinnati Milacron press -- that has helped meet additional customer orders. Anchor also upgraded its production system to a "greener" model. The new system heats up faster, resulting in energy savings of up to 80 percent compared to older models. It also improves worker safety by containing heat.

"We've invested in equipment, building renovations, new computers and we're hiring people," Rogers said. "We're starting to see entrepreneurs, guys with product ideas, emerging again. They want us to build new molds for them. And we've seen growth in all sectors, from filters to floor-cleaning parts to the solar industry."

SHORT TAKES

Several Twin Cities nonprofits that help finance struggling entrepreneurs with microloans, inner-city clinics and nonprofit developers have received about $4 million in capital allocations. The funds come from the $175 million recently awarded from the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund of the U.S. Treasury Department.

"These funds enhance our ability to provide loans to nonprofits that enable them to adapt and serve our community," said Kate Barr, CEO of Minneapolis-based Nonprofits Assistance Fund, which got $1.45 million.

The Community Reinvestment Fund also received $1.45 million. WomenVenture got $600,000 and the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers received $400,000. These funds help hard-pressed nonprofits shore up their balance sheets.

Allen Saeks, veteran business lawyer at Leonard, Street and Deinard, has received the Richard S. Arnold Award for Distinguished Service and Lifetime Achievement for the Federal Court for the District of Minnesota. Saeks was nominated by Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis andcolleagues.

Among his accomplishments, Saeks has served on the board of directors of Equal Justice Works, a nonprofit that sponsors the training of young lawyers to represent under-served communities. He's also a longtime board member for the Fund for the Legal Aid Society. Saeks initiated programs to reduce delays in the trial calendar and to better educate the public on legal procedures. In the 1990s, he worked with minority groups to enact the Minnesota Civil Anti- Bias Hate Crime law, which provided civil remedies for victims of bias crimes. He's also a co-founder of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), which assists consumers and the indigent.

The award commemorates the life and accomplishments of the late Richard Arnold, longtime chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Clayton McNeff, a chemist and co-founder of Ever Cat Fuels and Mcgyan Biodiesel, is heading to Norway this month for meetings and presentations with Alf Bjorseth, chairman of Renewable Energy Corp., a large Norway-based energy company. Ever Cat makes fuel from waste cooking oils and other renewable feedstock,

McNeff, whose company commercialized an innovative, low-waste process that was conceived in a chemistry lab at Augsburg College, his alma mater, will host a public reception at the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel on Sept. 20 in Oslo with Bjorseth and Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow.

In a just-completed weight-loss challenge, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota employees bested their North Carolina Blues brethren by losing 3.1 percent of their total weight compared to 1.1 percent for the Southerners. The 658 employees in Minnesota lost a combined 3,941 pounds while the 524 North Carolinians shed 1,070 pounds. But everybody wins by losing. Contestants report that they are still losing weight, eating better and being more active. Sure is a low-cost alternative to heart surgery or adult-onset diabetes.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • nstanthony@startribune.com

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