Magazine article Management Review

ENTREPRENEURS and Professional Managers

Magazine article Management Review

ENTREPRENEURS and Professional Managers

Article excerpt

Name: Lillian Vernon

Title: Founder and CEO

Company: Lillian Vernon Corp., Rye, New York

Line of Business: retail gift catalog and Internet sales

Number of Employees: 4,700

Revenues: $258 million

In 1951, I launched my mail-order catalog business in a male-dominated industry controlled by well-established giants. But through hard work and perseverance, Lillian Vernon Corp. has grown to 34 editions of nine catalog titles and $258 million in annual sales. Although much has happened in 48 years, I still use the tools that have always been the cornerstone of my success.

Decision making at Lillian Vernon has always been entrepreneurial-the spirit of the entrepreneur controls all my major moves. I pride myself on examining each situation from all angles, gathering the important facts and acting on my best judgments. Good old-fashioned common sense- the core ingredient of an entrepreneur-has been invaluable in my decision-making process. Still, a smart entrepreneur needs the guidance and input of professional managers to make educated, sound business decisions. We have grown the company by combining the best qualities of entrepreneurship and professional management.

When you're an entrepreneur, your business is like your child-a creation of your own making. Every morning, I was the first one in the office, reviewing the bills, signing the checks and putting out fires that ranged from a crisis in the warehouse to quality control issues. I approved every word of catalog copy and took phone orders from my customers.

For the first 19 years, the business grew gradually, allowing me to continue directing all aspects of the operation. But between 1970 and 1984, Lillian Vernon grew from $1 million in sales with a small base of customers to sales of $115 million with millions of customers nationwide.

As a result, I could no longer handle every job myself.

I knew that my company could only grow if I faced the challenges inherent in growth. I set my course on becoming a manager. I also hired managers who were on the same wavelength-with an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to act and make decisions independently.

The two aspects of my business that I value most are my employees and my mailing list. I've purposely kept our management team lean. I'm always available to discuss operations, but I encourage my executives to make their own departmental decisions. …

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