Five Questions on Managing Investor Relations with Trent Kruse, ’04 Master’s in Finance, Vice President (Treasurer), Treasury, Investor Relations and Corporate Communications, JCPenney
By the Eller Finance Department, for MSF Connect: Alumni News
What type of professional experience have you had so far with JCPenney?
My experience has been good, bad and ugly over the last 12 years at JCPenney. The company has experienced highs, lows and everything in between. Despite that, I would not trade this experience for anything. I have learned so much, and most importantly I have learned just how critical culture is.
My first two years at JCP were two of the best years in terms of performance and profitability for the company, then the recession happened. Needless to say, that was a difficult time for retailers. As we exited the recession, an activist investor took a sizable stake in the company. His strategy took this 115-year-old retailer to the precipice. Since then, we have been working tirelessly to put JCP back in the ranks of world-class retailers and the progress has been exceptional.
One thing is certain about the people at JCP: we are a group of associates continuing to live by Mr. Penney’s ideals of honor, courage, service and cooperation.
What has surprised you most about investor relations?
The passion our customers have for JCP has been amazing. It has been so surprising to receive countless emails and phone calls from investors and customers rooting for us to turn things around, survive and ultimately thrive. I guess you don’t get to hang around 115 years as a retailer if you don’t create a lasting and enduring relationship with your customers… and Mr. Penney certainly did that, and it continues today!
Why did you choose to work for JCPenney after graduating from the MMF program?
I am a native Texan and planned to head back to Texas to start my professional career. I interviewed at several companies, but one thing really stood out about JCP—the people. It seemed that everyone I interviewed with had been with the company for 10, 20, 30 or even 40 or more years. I remember thinking that has to be a sign of a company that treats its associates well and creates an environment for you to be successful and grow in your career. Twelve years later, that has certainly proven to be the case!
What does a typical day look like?
I think this is another reason I really enjoy my job at JCP: there are no typical days in Investor Relations, or Treasury. I often have a list of tasks to accomplish, and rare are the days that I actually check anything off that list. I spend a lot of my time advocating on behalf of JCP to the external community, both financial and media. The balance of my time is spent managing the team and interacting with company executives. One of the greatest benefits to IR and Treasury is the need for me to be intimately involved in all aspects of JCP, so I can “tell our story” to current and perspective investors and lenders. Having that type of exposure early in my career has been extraordinary and unexpected.
What advice do you have for current MS Finance students ready to start their careers?
My advice is simple, and it hangs on the wall in my office: Work hard and be nice to people. It sounds obvious, but hard work pays off and everyone can appreciate someone with a positive attitude and outlook. Being nice doesn’t mean you avoid confrontation or don’t make the tough decisions, but people will do more for you if they like you.
Of course, sometimes the “be nice to people” part can be difficult when you deal with hard-charging hedge fund analysts, the uninformed and frustrated shareholders! Best of luck to you all!
Top image of JCPenney storefront by Nicholas Eckhart, courtesy Flickr. Photo of Trent Kruse courtesy JCPenney.