JCPenney Marketing Vet Opens Baseball Academy

Mike Boylson Says Desire to Run His Own Business, Not Management Changes, Led to Early Retirement

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When Mike Boylson's retirement was confirmed by JCPenney earlier this week, industry execs questioned the timing and whether Ron Johnson, incoming CEO, was preparing to clean house.

Mike Boylson
Mike Boylson

But the retailer's long-time marketer told Ad Age that he had no idea about the impending management shift when he notified Myron "Mike" Ullman that he planned to retire early, at age 56. Subsequently, Mr. Ullman announced that Mr. Johnson, an Apple and Target alum, would be taking over as CEO later this year.

Mr. Boylson officially left the company where he spent 32 years July 1. Since then, he's been busy with the soft opening of his new business, a franchise of D-BAT, a chain of baseball and softball training facilities in Texas and Oklahoma. A grand opening is planned for September.

Mr. Boylson teamed up with a friend to open D-BAT Allen, located in Allen, Texas, about 25 miles north of Dallas and just down the road from JCPenney's Plano headquarters. The 27,000 square-foot location features a slew of batting cages, including a "showcase cage" with clay pitcher's mounds, a pro-shop and a team room, as well as a parents' lounge. There are classes, camps and clinics on offer.

"[Baseball] is something I've always been really passionate about, so I've wanted to do this for a while," Mr. Boylson said. "I loved JCPenney and had an incredible career ... but I'm anxious to try out everything I've learned in my own business."

Two of Mr. Boylson's sons are also baseball players. His son, Zack, is headed to the University of New Mexico this fall, where he'll play, while Luke will be a sophomore on his high-school team. Mr. Boylson said he's keen to have the time to take in their games.

Still, the retail vet doesn't rule out the possibility that he'll return to the industry. "I'm sure at some point in time when this is up and running, I'm going to get back into the fray and do something else in the retail business," he said.

Mr. Boylson's career at JCPenney began on the sales floor, where he was making minimum wage and biding his time while looking to put his degree in education to use. Instead, he stayed at the retailer for more than three decades, holding a variety of positions in merchandising and store strategy before moving into marketing. He held the role of VP-director of marketing planning and promotions until 2003, when he was named chief marketing officer. Mr. Boylson spent more than eight years in that role, presiding over one of the largest budgets in the category. In 2010, JCPenney reported advertising expenses of nearly $1.2 billion.

During his tenure he worked to move JCPenney from more of a promotional model to a branded model. That brought with it the introduction of designer and celebrity lines, as well as the introduction of in-store Sephora boutiques. In 2006, he oversaw the shift of JCPenney's advertising account to Saatchi & Saatchi from DDB Worldwide, Chicago. Mr. Boylson and Mr. Ullman have been proponents of Kevin Roberts' "Lovemarks" theory of marketing.

"What's really exciting is that I can take all the things I learned in marketing and apply them to another business and see it work," Mr. Boylson said. "We haven't even started advertising yet and won't until the fall. But we're off to a good start."

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