The International Business Machines Corporation established the IBM Lectureship in Business and Finance at Westminster College in 1980. It is designed to bring world business and finance leaders to Westminster's Fulton, MO campus.
Thursday, March 9
Maxine Clark, Build-a-Bear Workshop founder
St. Louisan Maxine Clark was looking at a Beanie Baby in a retail store when the idea to create a company that would allow people to create their own customized stuffed animals was born. The Build-A-Bear Workshop (BBW) soon became a reality.
“In 1997, I withdrew $750,000 from my retirement account to get Build-A-Bear Workshop off the ground,” said Clark. “That covered startup costs and the building of the first prototype store. I also secured a bank line of credit for inventory and working capital with my house as the collateral.”
Fortunately, an article about her company in the St. Louis Business Journal caught the attention of Barry Ebsworth and Wayne Smith, who bought 20 percent of the St. Louis-based company for $4.5 million.
The first store opened in the St. Louis Galleria Mall in 1997. Today, Build-A-Bear Workshop (BBW) operates 425 stores worldwide and sells bears, clothes, shoes, accessories, other animals, and licensed products from Disney and Major League Baseball teams.
“We focus on good price, convenience, and location, and we hope when you leave, you have a smile on your face,” said Clark. “Successful retailers -- whether it’s Macy’s or Apple -- do these things.”
Giving back is important to Clark, who said BBW’s “proud to focus its giving efforts on providing opportunities for children of all ages to better their communities and share their heart with others.” She said BBW has donated more than $46 million dollars in grants and “furry friends” to organizations around the world, and has partnered with Save the Children, the Petfinder Foundation, and Barnardo's to help those worthy causes.
As important as giving back to the community, she said encouraging employees to be brand ambassadors has been critical to BBW’s success. Every six weeks, she said, employees are brought to company headquarters in St. Louis to offer feedback through the Chief Chat program. This helps explain why BBW has been named to the FORTUNE Best Companies to Work For list for the fifth consecutive year.
Clark was Chief Executive Bear for BBW until June 2013. Before starting BBW, she was President of the Payless ShoeSource Company (1992-1996) and, before that, she worked her way up the May Company corporate ladder (1971-1992).
She has been named one of The 25 Most Influential People in Retailing by Chain Store Age (2008), inducted into the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame, and selected as Retail Innovator of the Year (2001) by The National Retail Federation. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Footlocker, Inc., Teach for America National Board and the Board of Trustees of Washington University in St. Louis.
In 2006, she published her first book, The Bear Necessities of Business: Building a Company with Heart.”
Clark is a graduate of the University of Georgia and holds an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from St. Louis University.
Past IBM lecturers have included the following:
Walter, Hester '77, CEO, Maui Jim Sunglasses
Hjalma Johnson, Banking Industry
Paul Roberts, Author
Hugh Grant, Monsanto
John Bachmann, Edward Jones
Carl Ghosn, Nissan
View full list of past IBM lecturers