Maxine Clark Interview: Build-A-Bear Mega Founder Turns to Social Entrepreneurship
Diana Landau | July 07, 2023
Carl interviews Maxine Clark, a true catalyst and inspirator. After a two-decade career as a successful executive in retail, Maxine pivoted at age 48 and founded Build-A-Bear Workshops, which has sold nearly 250 million stuffed animals worldwide. In 2004, Maxine orchestrated the company's highly successful $170 million IPO, the first St. Louis woman to do so. Maxine, a woman of boundless energy and enthusiasm, continues to be a driving force for positive change in the world.
Maxine grew up in Coral Gables, FLA. Her father was an electrician and her mother had quite a remarkable career in the non for profit realm. Maxine tells us her mother graduated high school at 14 and went to work as a secretary for Eleanor Roosevelt. Fun fact: Roosevelt urged the women who worked for her to go out in the world and advocate for positive change. Her mother did so, first as a big fundraiser in the community and then started a school for children with Down's Syndrome. Maxine tells us, "My mother was very creative. No problem can't be solved. I like that."
Although she first thought she wanted to go into law, after college she began an illustrious career in retail, working her way up the ranks of the May Company. She became President of Payless ShoeSource in 1992. In 1996 at the age of 48, she moved to St, Louis and started thinking about a new business. Sparked by the idea of creating personalized teddy bears, she tried to buy a couple companies, which didn't work out. Everyone told her she was crazy.
But you guessed it--only nine months later the first Build-A-Bear Workshop opened in St, Louis. Carl asks Maxine how she could go from creating a concept to opening a store in record time. "I'm pretty good at planning and execution. I had experience and resources. But I also had a vision." As Founder and CEO, Maxine led her Build-A-Bear team to the pinnacle of growth and success just seven years after start up. She was the first woman to bring an IPO to Wall Street, managing critical relationships for the company to be publicly traded on the NYSE.
After 17 years with Build-A-Bear, Maxine wanted to pivot again, but this time in the not for profit world. In 2015, she launched a ground-breaking project to create positive change in her community. The "Delmar Divide" was an area in St. Louis historically known for segregating poor black neighborhoods from white neighborhoods. Maxine's team bought the old St. Luke's Hospital and is developing an innovative hub and collaborative space dedicated to helping not for profit creatives to work together, to improve the lives of children and families in the metropolitan St. Louis area. This once-neglected dividing line in St Louis is now being transformed into The Delmar DivINE. Maxine says, "This is joyful work. Dream the dream-- supreme!"
Maxine Clark's Inspirations:
"Your experience is so valuable to somebody else. There's always something you can do to strengthen your community."
"Look around at what interests you, whether its non-profit or volunteering and just meet people around it. Network!"
"I like to bring experts to the table, and I also sit at the table, to make sure we find solutions and continue to move forward."
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” blog.
People love to create bucket lists. They are a fun way to set up goals, push yourself and achieve your dreams. You never know what following a list will lead to, or the people you will meet along the way. I wanted to learn more. In this month's podcast I talked with financial experts Ian Castille and Gary Sirak about bucket lists on our "(Un)Retirement Wisdom with the Pros" segment.
Bucket lists are all over the map. They are personal and unique and sometimes surprising. My friend Matt Coen and his wife Emily had their "50 by 50" bucket list to see all 50 states by age 50. They just completed North Dakota and South Dakota number 49 and 50. I know another couple that watched every James Bond movie (there are 27 films). Others, (including my wife) want to visit every national park in the US (63 national parks).
Both experts say that money doesn't buy happiness but it can buy fulfilling, even once-in-a lifetime experiences. Or maybe your bucket list is really a wish list, where you set out to do all the things you wished you could've done but were working. Either way, knowing what you want, without compromising your financial security is pretty darn important in this second half of your life!
Some highlights from our segment:
Ian tends to approve and disapprove certain bucket list items, based on discussions with clients about the financial sense and quality of life perspective.
Here are some common requests from clients:
Luxury African Safari: Probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience--approved!
Kitchen remodel: Spending more time at home, quality of life, possible resale value--approved!
Giving children money for home down payments: Really big expense that will most likely not be paid back--maybe. It is critical to understand that this move would not compromise YOUR financial health in any way.
Second "vacation" home: Double your costs plus if you rent it out, it becomes a part-time job for you--not approved!
Gary prefers to call it a Wish List vs a Bucket List. First, he has each partner fill out a form about their dream wish list. This exercise is eye-opening and very helpful for discussion. (Sometimes partners have totally different wishes and priorities!)
Here are two unique client requests:
Client owned a machine shop and sold it, $3 million in a 401K. Asked to take out $1 million because he had a life dream of being a professional poker player. Paid taxes on the sum and lived off of it while forging his new career. He was successful for many years, played the circuits and won tournaments.
Client wants a wish list item to include money for casino trips. Gary is not sure they win more than they lose, but it's something clients really want to do, they enjoy it.
With all of these examples, following your dreams is great, as long as you check with a trusted advisor to make certain you are not compromising your financial security. Now get out there and have some fun!