Tag: Defining Moments

How do you provide focus to a 100-year-old company?  Diane Sullivan set out to answer that question in 2011 when she was named CEO of Caleres, a global footwear company with a diverse portfolio of brands.

Diane Sullivan, CEO, President, and Chairman, Caleres

Diane Sullivan, CEO, President, and Chairman, Caleres

Having been named President in 2004 and COO in 2006, Sullivan was already a seasoned executive within the footwear industry. With this experience, she successfully led Caleres (formerly Brown Shoe) through a name – and identity – change that was symbolic of the company’s shift under her leadership.

We were honored to have Diane Sullivan share her leadership experience with the Defining Moments class.

As a kid, Diane grew up “earning it every day,” a mentality that still serves her well.  As CEO, this manifests itself in a leader who does not shy away from hard work and who also has a willingness to ask questions and to listen.

Diane’s curiosity has been vital to Caleres’ sustained success in the fast-paced shoe industry. With the explosive growth of e-commerce, especially mobile purchasing, a dynamic leader who understands how to deliver the product in light of shifting consumer behavior is of paramount importance.

In order to achieve success in this industry, Diane also recognizes the importance of collaboration with all stakeholders. Firmly believing that, it is perhaps not surprising that such a collaborative approach has coincided with Caleres reporting very strong performance across several metrics during her tenure as CEO.

The biggest takeaways I have learned from Diane is valuing teamwork, having curiosity, and growing through adversity can help you be successful.

Guest Blogger: Danny Henry, MBA’17


Mike Matheny was a speaker at Olin’s “Defining Moments: Lessons in Leadership and Character from the Top” course. 

“Leadership and high-level achievements go hand-in-hand,” began Mike Matheny during his presentation at Olin’s Defining Moments course in January. Mike is the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, a role he’s held since 2012. Mike was a professional baseball player, playing as catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, and the San Francisco Giants before hanging up his gloves in 2006. After his stint as a professional catcher, he became involved in youth sports, coaching Little League, publishing a book on youth sports, as well as starting a non-profit, the Catch Twenty-Two Foundation, before following the infamous Tony La Russa in becoming the Cardinal’s manager. Mike has won numerous awards and accolades, both as a player and as a coach. He is a four-time winner of the Gold Glove award as well as the youngest and most winning manager in recent history.

Mike Matheny is a high-performer, having achieved the pinnacle of baseball by playing in the Major Leagues. It’s not his position, but his performance that Mike says makes him to be a leader—and he believes that high performers are leaders because others want to follow them. Mike shared with us five attributes that separate the highest performers from the rest. He believes that living a lifestyle of learning, having the discipline and focus to do the right thing, being inherently tough with grit, having positive energy, and selflessness are the hallmarks of high-performing leaders. Matheny goes further to say that showing up with energy and enthusiasm are non-negotiable for any leader, quoting his mentor, Willie McGee: “Some people light up a room when they enter, some when they leave.”

Guest blogger: Tony Nuber is a 2017 MBA Candidate in the Full-time MBA Program at Olin Business School. 

“Systems don’t win, players do.” “Adversity is an opportunity for heroism.” “What it takes to win is simple, it’s not easy.”

If you had asked me which Defining Moments speaker would present his or her leadership philosophy through quotes from former Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Lewis, my first guess would not have been Major Brands CEO Sue McCollum. But Sue McCollum brought her true self to the Defining Moments classroom, and Sue’s true self is a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan.

Sue McCollum holds two advanced degrees, an MBA from American University and a JD from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a force in the St. Louis community, sitting on countless boards, including Forest Park Forever, the Contemporary Art Museum, and the Regional Business Council. She is the mother of two accomplished young men.

But what specifically brought Sue to our Defining Moments classroom in February was Sue’s role as Chair and CEO of Missouri-based Major Brands. Sue is the only female CEO of a national wholesale liquor distributor posting more than $500 million in yearly revenue, and her story of how she came to hold that position is humbling and inspirational.

Major Brands CEO Sue McCollum visits Olin's Defining Moments course in Feb. 2017.

Major Brands CEO Sue McCollum presents to Olin’s Defining Moments course.

In 2010, McCollum was living in St. Louis, starting her first year of law school and raising two sons with her husband Todd Epsten, then-CEO of Major Brands, a company that had been in his family for three generations. But when Todd passed away after a short and unexpected illness, McCollum took over as the company’s CEO. Shortly after, several of Major Brands’ biggest customers attempted to break their contracts with the company, the legality of which was questionable.

At this point, McCollum had to make a decision: should she fight and lose the lawsuits, fight and win the lawsuits, or give up? McCollum decided to fight, and stressed the importance of decisiveness in leadership. There was no turning back; she had made a commitment not only to herself, but also to Todd’s legacy, to her employees, and to the community. To flinch or back down would not only guarantee a loss, but also would be a betrayal of the trust and belief that these various stakeholders had in her.

This recognition of the importance of relationships in leadership was a theme McCollum echoed throughout her speech. She pinpointed Major Brands employees as the key to the company’s success, noting that strong communication and common values were essential to keeping spirits high during the court trials.

McCollum also credited clarity of purpose and “embracing your inner badass” for her success, encouraging listeners to push forward toward the things they are afraid of, and reminding the audience to embrace discomfort, because those are the moments that change you. McCollum zeroed in on the power of adversity to help people grow, and mentioned how she challenges herself to not shy away from these types of situations, because there is always some good that comes of them. The idea that the hardest situations we face are also those that most deeply shape our character resonated strongly with me.

As McCollum finished relaying her remarkable story to the class, we were all left promising ourselves that we would face our own defining moments with the same integrity, grace, and courage as McCollum.

Written by Cassie Galante for the Bauer Leadership Center

As a child, Orvin Kimbrough never thought he would end up where he is now. As President and CEO of United Way of Greater St. Louis, he manages the efforts to better people’s lives in the Greater St. Louis area—and it is no easy task. Considering the changing market, large number of social programs, government funding cuts for social services, and increasing demand of clients, there are many considerations. Despite these challenges, Kimbrough has served as President and CEO for three years, and seems to have everything under control–although, his life certainly didn’t start out that way.

Kimbrough was young when he was put into the State of Missouri foster care system following the death of his mother. He grew up in the system and, at 18, was launched into the world. Although he scored a 15 on the ACT (19 was considered average at the time), he decided to apply to college. He didn’t have sufficient funds to apply to more than one school, and the one school he applied to did not accept his application. But through persistence, Kimbrough tested out of the required summer math class and was accepted to the University of Missouri. He struggled through and graduated, but faced personal challenges, including his younger brother being shot eight times and left paralyzed. Although it was a blow, Kimbrough’s persistence gave him the courage to continue working toward his goals.

Kimbrough meets with students in the Defining Moments course.

Kimbrough meets with students in the Defining Moments course.

Kimbrough says that in his first job at JeffVanderLou Initiative, he found his passion, and at his second job, Faith Beyond Walls, he found his voice. Through his focus and courage, he is where he is today, as President and CEO at one of the region’s largest privately-financed charities. His humility and authenticity were apparent in his message to the class. He spoke of how as a student struggling to enter higher education, he would come and sit on WashU’s campus because it “made him feel smart.”

The greatest takeaway that we can learn from Kimbrough would be the importance of finding our voice and not being ashamed of our past. Kimbrough says that he still struggles with worthiness, thinking that perhaps he shouldn’t even be in his current role. But he encouraged students to not be ashamed of their story and background. He has found his passion, and uses his voice to mobilize and inspire an army of people to care about his cause. As he said, “I’m here because I want to be here.” As a man who has faced challenges and adversity throughout his life, his story truly inspires us to find our passion and work for it, for great things will come to those who have enough hope to imagine a different future.

Guest Blogger: Joslyn Bunderson on behalf of the Bauer Leadership Center

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