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Business Leaders Share Life Lessons at Master Class Series

October 29, 2012

For the October Master Class Series, St. Louis Community College-Forest Park is hosting two business entrepreneurs who have provided hours of entertainment for children and adults alike.

Maxine Clark  
Maxine Clark

Maxine Clark is the local phenomenon who launched the Build-a-Bear Workshop in the St. Louis Galleria in 1997, and now oversees 425 stores worldwide as chief executive bear. Bill Menke is the chief operating officer behind the scenes at Wehrenberg Theatres, the oldest family-owned and operated theater circuit in the country.

They will share their secrets of success at the fall Master Class session 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31, in the Mildred E. Bastian Center for the Performing Arts, 5600 Oakland Ave. Admission is free and the event is open to the public.

The Forest Park Business Club and St. Louis Business Journal are co-sponsors of the series, which began spring semester to provide students with an opportunity to learn from successful people, who share their life lessons.

The Master Class Series features stories from business leaders about their professional successes and failures, as well as personal triumphs and disappointments. Every business leader has a story and there is something to be learned from every experience.

Clark was a retail business success long before the idea of stuffing bears sparked her imagination. Graduating from the University of Georgia in 1971, she worked as a retail executive trainee for the Hecht Co. in Washington D.C., and steadily worked her way up the corporate ladder at the May Company, arriving in St. Louis in 1976.

Clark worked for the May CEO on business development, special projects and acquisitions, and became president of its Payless Shoe Source in 1992. She left in 1996 to pursue another outlet. Ty Beanie Babies was the inspiration. While searching for new Beanie Babies with two collectors, the son and daughter of a friend, the girl remarked that they could make their own bears. That’s all she needed, and she ran with it.

Clark put together a plan for creating customized stuffed animals, withdrew her retirement savings, and opened the first Build-a-Bear Workshop in 1997. Today, company-owned and franchised stores are throughout the United States and in Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, Mexico and the Middle East.

The company hosts an award-winning virtual world at bearville.com. In 2006, Clark published her first book, “The Bear Necessities of Business: Building a Company with Heart,” and the company has been named to the “Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For” for four straight years.

Bill Menke  
Bill Menke

Menke, executive vice president at Wehrenberg, began a lifelong love affair with the movies as a young child. From a teenage usher in his local moviehouse to the current chief operating officer of the country’s oldest family-owned movie chain, his life has revolved around the silver screen.

A graduate of Longview Community College in Kansas City, Mo., Menke worked after college for a theatre chain in Kansas City. He eventually moved to San Antonio, Texas, and joined Santikos Theatres as a director. After the company was sold, Menke became the general manager of the Alamo IMAX theatre, where he brought in such innovations as laser light shows and local film festivals.

Menke moved to Baltimore as the vice president of operations for R/C Theatres, then joined Wehrenberg as director of activities in 1995, responsible for theatre construction, renovation, managing the maintenance team, facilities upkeep and architectural design.

From 2007-2011, Menke was corporate vice president of Warren Theatres in Wichita, Kan. He rejoined Wehrenberg in March 2011 and currently oversees both theatre and home office operations on a day-to-day basis, directing teams to develop additional revenue streams and continuing theatre growth with new locations.

He and his wife, Susan, have two daughters, Elizabeth and Katie.

For more information regarding the Master Class Series, contact Angelic Cole at 314-644-9771 or acole56@stlcc.edu.