Big lessons from a woman who is 4’11” tall

I have recently had the privilege to meet Maxine Clark, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Build-A-Bear Workshop. She is a busy woman. We covered a lot of ground in a ten minute phone conversation. Later, I marveled at her leadership skills as she led a room full of busy executives through two strategic planning meetings.

First, let me tell you about the telephone conversation. KETC/CH9 is the public television station in Saint Louis, MO. We are contemplating the merits of a capacity building campaign. Since Maxine is one of our prominent Board members, her opinion is of vital importance.  Under normal conditions we would like a face-to-face meeting with Maxine. However, at this time of the year, we had to settle for a brief telephone conversation. After learning of her enthusiasm in favor of a campaign, I asked Maxine for a financial donation commitment. She said “yes” but was hesitant to be specific. Instead her answer was this, “most of my assets are tied up in Build-A-Bear stock. So, buy-a-bear!”

Well it just so happened the next week-end was Valentine’s Day, and one day later is my wife’s birthday (looks like the perfect storm). I promised Maxine I would buy a bear. And, I did. As a bonus, I came across a book in the store, written by Maxine Clark (with Amy Joyner) called the Bear Necessities of Business. I would like to share with you a few of the things that I learned from reading that book.

  • Start by believing you can truly achieve whatever you set your mine to–never discount the power of a positive attitude. (Ah, advice very much in line with what I learned from Norman Vincent Peal, author of the Power of Positive Thinking, some 40 years ago).
  • To be happy and successful in business you must do work you are passionate about–the most satisfied people are those who have discovered the greater purpose of their work.
  • You build a successful company–one passionate, emotionally attached person at a time. The key is having a targeted focus–specialize in making one core group enormously happy instead of trying to make a lot of different types of customers feel moderately satisfied.
  • Going into business underfunded is the biggest and most damaging mistake entrepreneurs make–having a well thought out business plan is an essential component to launching your new venture.
  • Create a company where people work for you because they want to not because they have to–employees like to feel valuable and appreciated at work. It’s not just about the paycheck.
  • Always listen to your customers first and the marketplace second. Your primary job is to make your customers feel special. (My comment–When the customer/client calls you with good or bad feedback, it’s not an interruption in your work, it is the purpose of it. You are employed because you have customers/clients).
  • The most successful people create their own luck through hard work–stop waiting for your lucky break to come.
  • Philanthropy, whether through monetary donations or the gift of your time and expertise is an essential moral imperative–it’s our responsibility to make the world a better place, beginning right where we live.

Before we read any further, let’s stop and re-read the last bullet point. Maxine says, “it’s our responsibility to make the world a better place, beginning right where we live.” If you are in the non-profit business, I recommend reading a book, High Impact Philanthropy, by Kay Sprinkel Grace and Alan Wendroff. And if you are a donor, you may enjoy reading Inspired Philanthropy, by Tracy Gary and Melissa Kohner. 

And finally, back to Bear Necessities of Business, my favorite suggestion, found under Bearisms to Live and Work By–take time to taste the honey.

Although Maxine Clark stands less than five feet tall, when she voices her opinion everyone in the room knows they are listening to a giant. She is a giant in terms of business wisdom and common sense. She is also a giant person living out her dream to be of service to her customers, her employees and her neighbors–especially children.

I know she won’t mind if I recommend…buy a bear!

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