Reputation Bracketology: JCPenney v. General Motors

By | April 5, 2014


In the first round, JCPenney proved that returning head coach CEO Mike Ullman was onto something when the “Retailers” defeated Toyota to advance to the Final Four. When Ullman returned to the helm of the iconic American brand, he had his work cut out for him. The previous coaching staff had essentially run the program into the ground with new strategies that were poorly suited for its loyal fans.

By bringing the focus back to fundamentals, JCPenney is reviving the winning strategy that made it an American success story from the start. It all centers on building confidence in players, fans and stakeholders, through a steady commitment to customer service, cultivating talent and online retail. While it’s too early to tell whether loyal “Retailers” fans will renew their season tickets, a 25 percent jump in share price immediately following the release of the quarterly earnings report in late February indicates that something in Coach Ullman’s playbook is working.

If JCPenney and Coach Ullman can continue to shift the focus away from the disastrous decisions of the past and stay centered on the opportunity for change, growth and innovation, the “Retailers” could easily take home the trophy.

General Motors:

GM easily pulled off the first round victory on the strength of head coach CEO Marry Barra’s strategy of transparency around the mistakes made by the previous coaching staff and the institution of a new culture of accountability.

Unfortunately for the “Motors”, things have gone from bad to worse. After announcing the recall of another 1.3 million vehicles, Coach Barra made two appearances on Capitol Hill this week to testify about documents that show previous coaching staff were aware of faulty ignition switches, but deliberately chose not to fix them citing that “none of the solutions represents an acceptable business case.” Continuing her winning strategy, Barra apologized for the failure and announced two new additions to the roster – former U.S. attorney Tony Valukas, who will lead an internal investigation and disaster compensation specialist Kenneth Feinberg, who will evaluate options for payments to the families of accident victims. Both of these moves indicate that the “Motors” came to play, and Barra will not shy away from the increasing pressure of her new role.

While GM has been very effective thus far in rising to the occasion and making all the right moves, any team would be hard pressed to overcome the continuous drip of negative information. The hits just keep on coming, and it is unclear if we’ve heard the last of it. Will the momentum and goodwill built up to this point be enough for Coach Barra and the “Motors” to overcome the mess they’ve inherited, or will the consistently negative coverage break the spirit of this iconic team?

Winner: In this clash of the iconic brand titans, we give the edge to JCPenney. The veteran coach using proven methods to emerge from crisis and bring back his team’s glory days is just too much for the smart rookie coach still dealing with a continuously unraveling legacy she inherited. We see a promising future for head coach CEO Mary Barra, but there’s light at the end of JCPenney’s tunnel and in the madness of March, having the worst behind you is always a winner.

Up Next: Our championship matchup between JPMorgan Chase and JCPenney

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