Since 2013, Sharon Price John has served as President & CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc. In her tenure leading the company, she revitalized the brand, bringing profitability back to the publicly traded company (NYSE: BBW) and creating a springboard for the brand’s relevance in the years to come. Before being included in the small group of female CEOs of publicly traded companies, before serving as a change agent for multiple brands, and before Columbia University, Sharon Price John was a girl from a small town in Tennessee who was determined to make an impact.
A self-professed tomgirl, Sharon’s parents encouraged her to embrace who she was and what she loved. A tree climber with dirty knees who slept in a frilly canopy bed, Sharon was not boxed into any notion of what others thought she should be or could do. Though most of the kids in her class did not plan on attending college, Sharon set her sights on a small state college. In her senior year of high school, an opportunity arose for her to visit Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Sharon had never been on a plane, let alone out of the country, so she leapt at the chance to see the world. The trip was a revelation for Sharon. “Upon returning from Europe, my goals quickly evolved to seek out the best opportunity that would provide the broadest perspective and greatest possibility for my college experience, as fast as I could,” she remembers. For her, this meant trying to open up her possibilities by quickly applying to the largest school in the state, the University of Tennessee. Eager to expand her horizons with hands-on-her-hips determination, she didn’t even wait for the fall but started summer classes after graduation.
After completing university, Sharon started her career in Knoxville getting a first taste of the professional world. But Sharon dreamed of working in an advertising agency in New York. So, after getting a little experience, she felt ready to make her move—buying a plane ticket and hitting the ground running when she got to the city. Sleeping on a friend’s floor and taking over a dozen interviews, she got her first big break within a week to work for DDB/Needham Worldwide.
After two years at DDB, Sharon was recruited by Backer, Spielvogel, Bates, eventually becoming the account supervisor on the M&M/Mars business. While working on the Snickers account, the brand manager from Snickers asked her if she had considered going for her MBA. He went one step further, telling her to stay in the city and apply to the venerable Ivy League Columbia University.
A newly-minted Columbia MBA in hand, Sharon was called to the toy industry. “I was $60,000 in college debt with nothing in Los Angeles but a belief that Mattel was the perfect place for me,” Sharon says. She spent five years, working her way up to a Vice President there and eventually moved back East to work for another toy company, Hasbro. Seven years later, after helping to revitalize brands like Nerf and Littlest Pet Shop, while rising to the level of SVP/General Manager for the US Toy and Global Playskool Divisions, Sharon was ready for her next challenge.
Accepting the role of President of Stride Rite Children’s Group, Sharon was initially an anomaly in the over 100-year old shoe brand. People were not sure what to make of this “toy” person in their midst. Undeterred, Sharon told her new workforce, “You don’t just manufacture and sell children’s shoes. You create products that help kids run and climb. You help children make special moments that can last a lifetime. You are play enablers and memory makers!” Within a couple of years, Stride Rite was named “Company of the Year” by Earnshaw’s magazine.
Sharon caught the attention of Build-A-Bear in 2013. Taking the reins of the company from its founder, the legendary Maxine Clark, Sharon was placed in charge of a business with a household name yet wasn’t profitable as Build-A-Bear was still struggling to recover from the Great Recession. But with a powerful brand, no debt and good cash flow, Sharon saw the potential to revive – and grow – a beloved concept. Sharon has led the transformation of this multi-generational trusted brand capturing today’s zeitgeist and raising Build-A-Bear to pop culture status. The company is positioned to continue to be a part of lives for years to come.
Sharon has three children and lives in St. Louis with her husband, Russ. She has been named one of the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s 100 Distinguished Alumni of the last 100 years and has been recognized as a Distinguished Alumni by Columbia Women in Business. She is also engaged with a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and organizations.