The 2017 Frontiers in Service Conference June 22-25 in New York City opens with an Executive Roundtable of Presidents & CEOs internationally recognized as service leaders. In this session, we will hear the challenges and insights these leaders faced in building organizations with a reputation for service excellence and financial success. In this article, we briefly introduce one of the roundtable participants, Sharon Price John has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc.

John has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc. since mid-2013. Prior to her current role, Ms. John has held several positions within similar industries, including executive-level positions at Hasbro, Mattel, and Stride Rite.1 Her extensive industry experience includes 20+ years of focusing on positioning brands for development, with particular expertise on brands associated with children’s products. In addition to specializing in children’s markets, Ms. John is known for turning around unprofitable businesses. When interviewed regarding her management philosophy, John observed:

“The long-term success of the company and well-being of our employees was dependent on our ability to change … Change is necessary to compete in today’s rapidly changing business environment, however, only changing when times are tough is not enough. Leaders need to know when to instigate change, as well as how to navigate the journey. But leading a transition isn’t easy. Most people are change averse, and the workplace is no exception. [This is because] change is almost always uncomfortable and exhausting. You are asking your organization to do something in a new way – every day – until it’s a habit. The ‘old’ habits may have taken years to form and were likely linked to rewards, so it’s normal for individuals and teams to revert to what’s comfortable when difficulties or confusions arise. I’ve identified a few techniques that can keep the need for change top-of-mind for your employees: the use of an internal marketing campaign about the vision or goal, the overt permission for people to hold each other accountable, and the orchestration of disruptive moments to re-ignite energy when the organization inevitably begins to falter.”2

When Ms. John joined Build-A-Bear, the company was at pivotal moment. The firm had been seriously underperforming expectations, even posting a $49 million loss in 2012.3 Under Ms. John’s leadership, the firm returned to profitability within 6 months. Build-A-Bear has remained profitable ever since.

Ms. John believes that both the willingness and ability to change are paramount to long-term success. Perhaps not surprisingly, Ms. John’s advice for coping with an ever-changing competitive environment relates back to a beloved children’s character. “We need to be more like Gumby: become more flexible, learn to stretch and focus on delivering the green.”4

Get to meet Sharon Price John at the 2017 Frontiers in Service Conference