Kenneth's Story

Kenneth S. Axelson, retired Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer and a former Director of J.C.Penney Company, Inc., and New York City's first Deputy Mayor for Finance, died on May 23, 2016, at Sussman House, Rockport, Maine, of congestive kidney failure. He was 93 and lived in Camden, Maine.

At the height of New York City's financial crisis in 1975, Mr. Axelson was loaned by J.C. Penney for one year to help the city straighten out its affairs. At the urging of financial and political leaders, Mayor Beame created the position of Deputy Mayor for Finance and gave Mr. Axelson responsibility for leading the city's rescue efforts. He was a principal architect of the economic recovery, establishing the city's first long-range financial plan, developing a program of wide-spread cost reductions in city agencies, negotiating a federal loan that kept the city solvent until reforms could be put in place, computerizing the city's financial record-keeping so that monthly performance reports could be prepared, and renegotiating union contracts. He served as the mayor's representative to the Emergency Financial Control Board established by New York State.

In the financial community, Mr. Axelson was known for his innovative financings at J.C. Penney. He is credited with issuing the first zero coupon bonds by a major company, which subsequently became a standard corporate financing technique.

Mr. Axelson was born in Chicago and graduated from the University of Chicago. He was a Certified Public Accountant. Before joining J.C. Penney, he was partner in charge of national management consulting services for the accounting firm of Peat Marwick Mitchell. Previous experience had been with McKinsey & Company, Arthur Andersen & Co., and Columbia Lumber Company of Alaska. He served as a warrant Officer in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Mr. Axelson served as a director of a number of companies including J.C.Penney, Grumman Corporation, UNUM Corporation, Zurn Industries, Central Maine Power, Protection Mutual Insurance, and a number of Merrill Lynch mutual funds. He also served as a Trustee of the New York Public Library and the Farnsworth Art Museum (Chairman, Finance Committee), and President of the Rockland Public Library Endowment Association.

Mr. Axelson spent his retirement dedicated to philanthropic activities in Maine, primarily the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland Public Library, and Pen Bay Medical Center. He was an avid sailor in his retirement, exploring the coast of Maine in his Friendship Sloop with his wife of 69 years and his four sons.

His wife, Roberta B. Axelson, died in 2011. Mr. Axelson is survived by four sons, Kenneth, Jr. of Burlington, VT, Jerrold of Conway, MA, Stephen of Accord, NY, and Chris of Butte, MT; eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
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