Apr 15, 2016 04:22 AM EDT

JC Penney CEO Started From $4.35 Per Hour: How He Got Ahead

By Jane Reed

"The easiest thing to do is to find someone in a job you'd love to have in five years and figure out how they got there. Reverse engineer their path," says Marvin Ellison. Ellison is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the J.C. Penney Brand. His job is to make sure the retail brand will grow back and recover the billions of dollars lost in the last year. But with most people, he started from humble and harsh beginnings.

He started his working career as a part-time worker at Target. CNBC reported that the man initially earned $4.35 per hour. Who knew that a customer-facing part-time associate would one day hold a track record of improving company operations? He was hired by J.C. Penney to do exactly just that. The company needs to be reinvigorated and revitalized. The brand is facing multiple challenges but Ellison is facing them head-on. His strategies have increased the company's earnings by 3%.

He offers his experience to everyone as a source of advice. Before he took on a leadership role, companies need to plan and hire well. He then suggests that everyone jump-start their early careers with a mentor who can help them set goals. For him, goals are about putting people to work and achieving these goals through invaluable work performance would provide fulfillment. "Companies survive because of great performance. If you perform at a sustainable level consistently, you're going to move ahead. If you don't, then you're working for the wrong company and that may be a decision you have to make," he said.

His experiences have not always been positive, he recalls that sometimes people are too focused on the big picture. "I've made those mistakes in the past and I don't plan to make those in the future," he explains.

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