Glen Morris – JCPenney
- Written by: Neil Cote
- Produced by: Zachary Brann & Ian Miller
- Est. reading time: 4 mins
A veteran commercial lawyer and litigator, Glen Morris was ready for a new legal challenge when answering a headhunter’s call in 2015 to join JCPenney’s legal team.
Now, after helping lead the iconic retailer through challenges that included filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and fending off class-actions, he’s encouraged by signs of JCPenney’s revitalization. He’s also eager to expand his role as a legal strategist, a function he assumed after he was named senior vice president, general counsel and secretary in 2021.
“There is a place in retail for a company like ours that serves diverse working families,” Morris tells Vanguard in February from Plano, Texas, headquarters. “We’re feeling better than we’ve felt in a long time.”
It certainly is a new era for the retailer. Since 2020, JCPenney is off the public exchange and co-owned by mall landlords Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management. With much assistance from Morris, the company has restructured its debt and shrunk its store footprint. It now serves customers across 49 states and Puerto Rico through more than 650 stores and its website.
He means business
A self-described tech-savvy lawyer, Morris oversees how JCPenney collects and uses customer data while staying compliant with the rules and regulations of many jurisdictions. While noting it can be a minefield, he emphasizes how beneficial it is for the retailer and shopper alike when the former collects data used to offer coupons or suggest products personalized for the customer’s style.
Brick-and-mortar retailing is here to stay, he emphasizes, but a more robust online presence is an important part of the customer journey that JCPenney is focused on improving.
“We’ve done a very good job of building a compliant privacy program that minimizes risk and ensures we’re compliant while still leveraging data for a more personalized approach with our customers,” he says. “We want to make sure our customers recognize what we have to offer.”
On the employee front, Morris collaborates with the human resources department in recruiting and retaining staff through such initiatives as job fairs, flexible and hybrid work schedules, and ongoing opportunities for training and development.
With store numbers down, he’s had to negotiate JCPenney out of many leasing arrangements, including what had been its Plano headquarters. Committed to a post-pandemic hybrid work culture, he expects to have staff back in their former building, albeit with less square footage.
With approximately 30 percent of its business coming from minority households of modest means—a larger share than that of most mall anchors—JCPenney also has stepped up marketing and brand appeal toward this demographic of “America’s diverse working families.”
And though tested in recent years, JCPenney—unlike Lord & Tayor, Barney’s and so many other defunct retailers—is still standing. Under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Marc Rosen, who brings years of executive experience from his time at Walmart and Levi’s, Morris is optimistic that the retailer’s best days lie ahead.
Just prior to Morris accepting the post of assistant general counsel for litigation in early 2015, JCPenney had announced a round of impending store closures and employee furloughs. Morris, who had been a partner at the Dallas office of Alston & Bird, was looked upon as having the skillset JCPenney needed for a transformation. Daunting as the task seemed, he still welcomed the opportunity to go back to what he really wanted to do.
“When you’re partner at a firm, half your job is marketing and administration,” he says. “Only the other half is law.”
In-house still called for adjustment, Morris having spent his entire career in private law, first a nine-year stretch with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, also in Dallas, and then Alston & Bird from 2007 to 2014. Going to JCPenney represented a change in direction for the Yale Law School graduate, but after much soul-searching Morris opted to give it a go for two years before deciding whether this was where he belonged.
Eight years later Morris has no plans to leave. The in-house role has indeed been refreshing and helping finalize the sale to Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management marked a milestone. As mall owners, those entities have a vested interest in JCPenney’s long-term success and Morris is eager to see that their investment is fruitful.
Most of JCPenney’s debt having been erased, the company is on solid financial ground, with a healthy balance sheet and good liquidity. That positions the company further along its transformation journey that includes investing in technology and the customer shopping experience.
All of which means a larger strategic role for Morris in addition to his day-to-day legal responsibilities. He’s also having to make do with fewer resources, the legal department of around 40 people being just half of what it had been in 2015.
But, as Morris reminds, everyone’s got to economize. Among his methods are emphasizing general rather than specific skills in the lawyers under his wing.
“JCPenney is truly leveraging its legacy,” Morris says. “Everyone here, including the legal team, must be a leader while we move forward in the retail space. The department will continue to be a mainstay for consumers.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring II 2023 Edition here.
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