Maxine Clark, founder of Build-A-Bear and CEO of Clark-Fox Family Foundation, spoke to the Bauer Leadership Center’s Defining Moments class in January. Clark, a dynamic and powerful businesswoman, spoke of her defining moments in her life, including her family heritage and her mother, who was the personal traveling secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt. Her mother was a motivated woman and was a great influence in Clark’s life.
Clark’s first job after college was at the May Department Stores Co. as a retail worker. Because of her motivation, drive, and courage, she succeeded in becoming Chief of Staff to the CEO of May Company and moved to St. Louis. In this time, she learned an important business truth from May Company CEO Stanley Goodman: “Retailing is entertainment and the store is a stage. When the customer has fun, they spend more money.” This maxim would play a huge role in her future. She was in the middle of a successful career when she was inspired by a friend’s child with the idea for Build-A-Bear Workshop, where people come to create their own furry friends. The business celebrates its 20-year anniversary this year.
Clark spoke of several defining moments—not only in business terms, but in her life. She spoke of her kindergarten teacher, who celebrated students who made the most mistakes on assignments by giving them a red pencil. Clark credited this teacher as a reason why Clark felt more comfortable putting herself in positions where she might fail. She was not afraid to make mistakes and to correct them if need be.
Clark also discussed the courage that a true businessperson must have. In high school, Clark was an editor for her high school newspaper and had the courage to write about a situation that bothered her—the salary of teachers in Florida. Her newspaper article reached many high-level newspapers in the state and earned her a full scholarship to college. Through her courage and curiosity, Clark was able to have a full education, enabling better opportunities for herself.
Clark spoke of the importance of finding your passion. For many years, she felt that something was missing from her life. When the idea for Build-A-Bear came to her, she decided to simply go for it. She did, and discovered what she truly loved. She loved making people smile and giving a bit of magic to people. Clark found what she loved to do and worked toward it.
We were honored to be able to learn from such an intelligent and motivated woman. As she closed, Maxine Clark left her personal philosophy with the class: “Do the best you can, find something you’re passionate about, and give back.” May we truly find what we love and not be afraid to do just that.
Guest Blogger: Joslyn Bunderson on behalf of the Bauer Leadership Center