Tag: Maxine Clark

It’s hard to keep the sighing, heavy-eyed students of a night class engaged. But on this Tuesday evening, I sat in a buzzing room—with classmates swapping stories of stuffing and stitches from their first Build-A-Bear experience. Taking the podium to kick off our Women in Leadership class that night was Maxine Clark, philanthropist, serial entrepreneur, and the founder and former “Chief Executive Bear” of the Build-A-Bear Workshop retail company.

Over the next two hours, Maxine took our class through her career journey, explaining some of the personal and professional decisions that she made along the way. From leaving Payless to launch her own company, to leading projects supporting education and nonprofits in St. Louis, Maxine embraces change while staying true to her core values. I left class that night with a few favorite nuggets of wisdom to carry with me:

Be open to the teachers around you.

Maxine has a very apparent appreciation for the teachers in her life, and she recognizes that they come in all forms—whether a schoolteacher, supervisor, or child (Build-a-Bear’s core customer). In being open to learning from others, Maxine has found the strength to improve from mistakes, the drive to rise to challenges and surpass expectations, and even the inspiration to build new businesses.

Passions change. Keep up.

At the heart of Maxine’s story is an unshakeable faith and courage in following her passions. With several career pivots—becoming an entrepreneur and then entering the nonprofit space—she has maintained the self-awareness to recognize that her passions are malleable, yet always worth chasing. By embracing her passions at different stages of her career, Maxine continues to feel fulfilled in her work.

Live and lead with authenticity.

You can’t help but love Maxine’s unapologetic attitude. Her words are charged with a certain fearlessness and wrapped in sincerity. Maxine’s ventures speak to her values, and she makes no excuses for conducting business in a way that is authentic to who she is and the things which are personally important to her. As her talk came to a close, she signed off: “That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.”

Guest Blogger: Neelam Vyas, MBA ’18 & GSBA President

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