Discipline learned in band brings
success to J.C.Penney CEO
on campus for Old Masters in November
Vanessa Dingledine performed with the “All-American” Marching
Band auxiliaries in the late 1960s and early 70s, the 5’10”
blonde was a triple threat as a majorette. She could dance, twirl and
strut with finesse.
In the 21st century, Vanessa Dingledine Castagna still falls in the
triple threat category. But “performances” for Castagna,
the Chairman and CEO of JCPenney Stores, Catalog and Internet, now take
place in the business arena as she guides Penney’s through a bold,
multi-faceted marketing plan designed to inject new life, and financial
vitality into one of the nation’s oldest companies.
The discipline needed to reach success in the competitive retail world
is rooted in her marching band experience under Al Wright. A smile drifts
across her face, she says, just thinking about those days in band.
“Being in band taught me so much about discipline and responsibility,
about being in the right spot at the right time, performing up to speed,
being on time and not fooling around,” says Castagna.
Life in the auxiliaries came with special stresses in the Wright era.
One was the weigh-in. Each Monday the women were required to climb on
the scales in public to verify their weight. “If you weighed outside
the normal deviation you couldn’t march,” she recalls, and
“if you dropped your baton you couldn’t perform.”
Castagna thrived on the competition. Twirling at Selma High School (now
Wapahani) outside Muncie nourished the interest in performing that led
her to choose Purdue for its academics as well as its marching band.
This fall Castagna returns to her alma mater to participate in Old Masters.
The program brings successful alums in various arenas back to campus
to share their stories and motivation with students.
She keeps in touch with the band world through her brother, Steve Dingledine,
the band director at Muncie Northside High School. “I live vicariously
through what he’s doing,” she says.
Halftime performances - including performing in sequins in a snowstorm
- rank among her favorite memories at Purdue. But tops on the list of
reminisces is a trip to Japan in 1970. They only chose six or eight
of us (majorettes) to go. I had to not only do pom, dance, twirling
and marching, but also be a halfway decent clarinetist. I had to do
everything. I thought it was great!”
Graduating from Purdue with a degree in psychology and speech communication
in 1971, she ran into a familiar scenario – no jobs in her area.
Desperate, Castagna looked to the retail world for employment and interviewed
for a personnel job at Federated Department Stores. When they offered
her a position in management training, she said yes and it wasn’t
long before Castagna realized she had found her niche.
“Mine is an easy story because I loved it (retail) from the very
beginning,” says Castagna whose voice bubbles with enthusiasm
when she talks about the diverse elements that come into play in her
job from critical analysis and shaping business strategy to team building
and people development.
Prior to joining Penney’s in 1999, Castagna held a variety of
senior management positions a Wal-Mart, and has worked with numerous
other retailers including Target and Lazarus.
At Penney’s she finds herself in the middle of a turn-around.
“It’s very exciting to be reformulating a new structure
for a 101 year-old company. The new business model we’ve introduced
over the last few years is resonating with customers because the merchandise
is more trendy and price conscious,” she says.
“It’s very stimulating to be part of a dynamic organization
with associates who care so much about the store’s heritage that
they will go through a difficult time to turn it around. My inspiration
comes from our associates in the stories and distribution centers, and
secondly from young people I’m involved with in an after-school
Knowing how highly Castagna regards her Purdue Band experience, it’s
not surprising that she’s the leading advocate for the JCPenney
Afterschool Fund dedicated to providing children with high quality after
school programs to help them reach their full potential.
“To do something you love to do is the true secret to success
and happiness,” says Castagna who feels that despite the frustrations
that come with any job “I can say that every single day I love
what I do.”
Love for what she was doing kept her in Purdue’s “All-American”
Marching Band for four years and she encourages today’s students
to do the same. “Stick in there for four years,” she advises.
“The kind of things band enables you to do are crucial”
to growth as an individual, she says. “The discipline, the camaraderie,
the communication, and the exposure band can give is parallel to your