J.C. Penney's (JCP) Weak Board Members Remain as William Ackman Leaves

As the fight between big J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JPC) shareholder and former board member William Ackman and some of the rest of the board rages on, no one has said much about the retailer’s other long-time board members. That may be because many are poorly qualified, or they have been on the board so long that they can be counted as part of J.C. Penney’s long-term problems.

Thomas J. Engibous, the company’s chairman, has been a member of the board since 1999. That means he has watched, and done little, as CEOs have come and gone and the fortunes of J.C. Penney have fallen apart. Where was he when the company needed him? Engibous helped push out current CEO Myron E. “Mike” Ullman III in 2011 after Ullman had served in that job since 2004. He helped bring in Ron Johnson, and helped fire him. Engibous deserves as much blame as anyone for the catastrophes.

Another barely qualified director is Kent B. Foster, who joined in 1998 and also has sat in the boardroom during all of J.C. Penney’s recent trouble. He has done very little since he left as head of low-tech company Ingram Micro Inc. (NYSE: IM) in 2007. He is something of a professional board member, having served on the board of Campbell Soup Co. (NYSE: CPB) from 1996 to 2008 and currently as a director of New York Life Insurance Company. No one has heard from him recently, probably because he has so little to say.

The most impressive member of the J.C. Penney board is Leonard H. Roberts, who ran Radio Shack Corp. (NYSE: RSH) from 1999 to 2006, as that company fell apart. At least he knows something about failed retailers and how they fail. He has been on the J.C. Penney board since 2002.

What big company American board could do without a leader of an academic or nonprofit organization? J.C. Penney board member R. Gerald Turner currently sits as president of Southern Methodist University, a job that should qualify him to be on any Fortune 500 board. He has been on the J.C. Penney board since 1995. It is shameful he has stayed, given all that the retailer has been through since he joined.

Adding to J.C. Penney’s problems is that it does not have much of a board.