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Power Sheet – February 25, 2016

I love learning about an inspiring leader I’d never heard of, and I just found a new one: J.C. Penney CEO Marvin Ellison. Fortune’s Phil Wahba profiles him in our latest cover story, and I suspect you’ll enjoy meeting Ellison as much as I did. He faces a giant challenge, which is often the kind that good leaders like best – in this case, restoring Penney to vibrant health three years after its near-death experience under former chief Ron Johnson, who had been in charge of Apple’s smashingly successful retail operation and brought sky-high expectations with him. He ended up creating the retail version of New Coke, throwing out the old formula and creating a new product that customers hated. The board brought back former CEO Mike Ullman to rescue the company, and last year Ullman turned the job over to Ellison.

His story is irresistible. He’s one of seven siblings who grew up in a financially struggling family, African-American in Brownsville, Tennessee, a town that remained segregated into the 1980s. His father was a voracious reader who worked two or three jobs rather than accept public assistance, modeling classic virtues for his kids. Marvin began his retail career during college as a security officer at Target making $4.35 an hour. By age 43 he was a top executive at Home Depot. That’s where Ullman found him in 2014.

Whether Ellison can restore Penney to its former glory is an open question; there are some jobs that nobody could do, and this may be one of them. Sales last year were an estimated $12.6 billion, nowhere near their 2006 peak of $20 billion. Sales per square foot ($155) and number of active customers (87 million) are also way below their peak.

But I got a good feeling about Ellison’s chances when I read a detail from his Home Depot career. He launched a weekly feature on the chain’s internal TV network, and instead of using the usual snooze-worthy model of a guy in a suit talking, he showed stories of employees doing great things for customers. As former CEO Frank Blake told Wahba, “They provided a ‘Wow, that’s amazing’ element to work so that people could see how impactful their work could be… It makes the associates stars.” That’s brilliant leadership for at least three reasons. First, we know that stories affect us more powerfully than all the facts and logic in the world. Second, stories about individual employee behavior create a company’s culture, and we live in an era when culture is more critical than ever. And third, those stories show employees something they might not believe if an executive told them, which is that the company’s fate really is in their hands.

Ellison’s to-do list is massive. He’s trying to fix such retailing basics as merchandising and supply-chain management while also trying to update the store’s app and e-commerce operations, which are behind the competition’s. I can’t predict how it will go. But Ellison is only 51, and he’s a leader I expect to be watching for quite a while.

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What We’re Reading Today

Foxconn pauses takeover of Sharp… 

…hours after announcing a deal had been agreed to. Shortly after the announcement, Terry Gou‘s Foxconn received material that it says needs to be reviewed before it will sign the deal. The proposed $4.3-billion merger would be the first time a major Japanese technology company has been taken over by a foreign firm. Taiwan’s Foxconn assembles iPhones, while Sharp makes screens, which Foxconn could use in place of screens Apple currently buys from LG. BBC

Obama’s potential Republican pick for the Supreme Court 

With GOP senators united in their refusal to hold hearings on any Supreme Court nominee offered by President Barack Obama, he’s considering nominating Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. He’s a Republican who served as a U.S. district court judge and was nominated by George W. Bush, and who supports abortion rights.  Fortune

Oil execs put on a brave face

CEOs of some of the largest oil companies spoke at a conference in Houston, acknowledging that it’s a tough time for oil companies, but they will survive. Hess CEO John Hess said the company has good “acreage” for when prices recover, and BP deputy CEO Lamar McKay said it will “adapt” to the tough times. But the  companies, already posting multi-billion-dollar losses, may face low oil prices for years. WSJ

ISIS threatens Zuckerberg and Dorsey

In a new video, supporters of the Islamic State are seen shooting targets with images of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The executives  have stepped up efforts to suppress messages sent by extremists on their social media platforms. USA Today

Building a Better Leader

New website tracks valuation reversals in funding rounds…

…by startups. CB Insights developed the Downround Tracker as valuations of some of the largest startups shrink. Quartz

When someone criticizes your idea…

…take it with a grain of salt, but also don’t be afraid to start over. Fortune

When comparing U.S. employee benefits vs. 14 European countries…

…the U.S. ranked last in 9 of 12 categories. Fast Company

New Tactics

Fifa moves forward with president vote

Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein tried to get Friday’s vote postponed by claiming the process isn’t transparent enough — literally. He proposes see-through voting booths, but the actual vote would remain secret. He filed a complaint with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which denied his request. Prince Ali is one of five candidates seeking to replace banned former Fifa president Sepp Blatter. ESPN FC

Apple developing stronger security measures for phones   

It’s an effort by Apple CEO Tim Cook to make sure the request by the FBI to develop a backdoor to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone can’t be used to break into future phones. A judge has ordered Apple to make a new operating system that the FBI can upload to the shooter’s phone and thus bypass security measures. Apple is fighting the order. The effort to build new security measures could lead to future conflicts with law enforcement. Fortune

Paul Ryan’s plans vexed by potential Trump candidacy 

House Speaker Ryan has been developing a conservative policy agenda to be trumpeted by the Republican nominee, whoever he might be. But if Donald Trump wins the nomination, it could all be for naught as the two do not agree on most issues. Yet Ryan would be expected to support Trump for the party’s sake. Some in the GOP worry that would be impossible. NYT

Up or Out

Bayer strategy chief Werner Baumann will replace chairman Dr. Marijn Dekkers, who also serves as CEO and will leave the company in May; Baumann will not become CEO. Dekkers was named chairman of Unilever on Wednesday. Financial Times

Shell’s U.S. country chair Marvin Odum announced his retirement. FuelFix

Boeing has promoted Leanne Caret to head of its defense and space unit, succeeding the retiring Chris Chadwick. WSJ

Martin Casado, general manager of VMWare’s networking and security business, will join Andreessen Horowitz as a general partner. Fortune

Fortune Reads and Videos

Former unicorn employees are warning startups…  

…about the potential for a fall. Flyers posted outside software firm Palantir’s offices cautioned employees about the value of their stock options and showed images of dead unicorns. Fortune

HP Inc. will cut 3,000 jobs by year-end

The original plan was to spread the cuts over three years. Fortune

Ryanair CEO will splash planes with pro-EU slogans

Michael O’Leary said he would “bore everyone to death” with anti-Brexit messaging from now until Britain votes in June. Fortune

Lenders back off plans to judge you via Facebook

The switch is partly because of Facebook’s revised data access policies. Fortune

Today’s Quote

“Pure intuition without any data gets you in trouble…We went through 18 months of that, and we’re not going to do it again.” – J.C. Penney CEO Marvin Ellison talking about his efforts to fix the struggling store.  Fortune

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Produced by Ryan Derousseau
@ryanderous
powersheet@newsletters.fortune.com