Pondering the relationship between retail success and community involvement at the turn of the century, James Cash Penney wrote, “We made it clear to [our store managers] that our conception of partnerships was not limited to the people within the organization. It was a partnership of every store and its community.” Chairman William R. Howell elevated this philosophy to a priority for the corporation and for J.C. Penney employees individually.
As a result of Howell’s influence, J.C. Penney supports many projects that contribute to quality of life through the company’s interest in education and economic development. Significant personal and corporate resources have been committed to provide expertise and support for repositioning academic programs; faculty development, recruitment and retention; and student training opportunities. Especially noteworthy for Auburn University is J.C. Penney’s role in the National Textile Center. In cooperation with other sectors of the textile complex, J.C. Penney has been a premier retail leader investing in graduate education and the emerging knowledge base of a newly-integrated global industry. The company has also made lasting contributions to environmental, health, and social issues in areas related to breast cancer research, educational initiatives, consumer product safety research, corporate child care programs, child safety, and the advancement of minorities and women.
Howell’s personal commitment to social concerns is exemplified by his involvement with United Way. Under his leadership as chairman of the Board of Governors, contributions to local United Ways gained momentum, with J.C. Penney and its associates and retirees raising more than $16 million in 1995. Howell is past chairman of the National Retail Federation and recipient of the prestigious NRF Gold Medal Award. He is highly regarded among his peers for his accomplishments in making J.C. Penney an international success and for contributing to the success of many others throughout the industry.
William Howell retired as chairman of J.C. Penney in 1997, but continued to serve as a director of ExxonMobil Corporation until 2008. He also served on the boards of Pfizer Inc. from 2000-09, Halliburton Company from 1991-2008, and American Electric Power from 1997-2008. Howell was a member of the board of trustees at Southern Methodist University from 1996-2000.