Let me say this right out in front. I like Shirley Price. In fact, just about everyone likes
Shirley. She is gentle, friendly, warm
and open. How then did someone with
these personality traits come to be the President and COO of one of our largest toy companies?I
wanted to find that out so I sat Shirley down for a conversation. Here is what I learned:
Talk to Shirley any amount of time and you realize that you
simply cannot fully understand how Shirley came to run Funrise without
understanding the person who hired her; Arnie Rubin. Arnie is one of those rare individuals who
have somehow managed to be respected and loved by his peers; not so easy in a
sharp elbowed community like the toy industry.
Shirley (she was the company’s first employee) is careful to
explain that Arnie’s intention from the beginning was to create a “work hard / play
hard” environment that was empowering to those who worked within it. His way of encouraging was to allow his
employees to make their own decisions and learn from the experience.
Obviously, Shirley was the kind of employee Arnie was
seeking and Funrise was the kind of company with which Shirley wanted to
stay. She has been there since its
inception in 1987 with her only prior experience working in a bank (which she
hated).That tells us a great deal about Arnie but what about Shirley. What makes her tick?
The most prominent element appears to be her belief in the
concept of the servant leader. This
lifestyle calls upon her to live her beliefs so that her counterparts can
emulate rather than just hear what she wants.
Bottom line she believes that to be a great coach you have to live what
Then I asked her the big question: “How did you feel about following a legend
“With some trepidation,” she responded. She went on to explain that Arnie is a great
product person and she does not feel she has that strength in kind. And then she said, and this gave me my
clearest insight into Shirley, that that was why she knew she had to surround
herself with great product people. She
had to fill in her gap.
Shirley has, what I like to call, “confident humility.”It is
that wonderful ability to surround oneself with strong, capable people who
compliment us without threatening us.
I then asked Shirley how she felt about being one of the few
females in the toy industry who is in the top position. Shirley feels that the toy industry is simply
an extension of society at large in which there are
simply fewer women in top jobs. As a result, women in her position have few
female peers with which they actually come in contact.
Though there are still not many women in the top position, I
noted to her that it seemed to me that industry events like PlayCon were just
about 50/50 male / female. I also noted
that PlayCon has seemed to become more collegial over the years. Did she feel that the presence of women has had
something to do with that?
Shirley agreed that it may have, at least in part, changed
due to the more communitarian nature of women.
She also thinks that leaders like John Barbour of Leapfrog and Bob Wann
of Patch Products have created a more fun loving, less competitive environment.
So where is Shirley taking Funrise? Is she changing course? Well, no, she says; the company has always
followed the K-I-S-S principal and she intends to keep it that way. She followed that up by moving to a baseball
metaphor saying that Funrise has always been about getting lots of singles and
leaving the homeruns to other companies.
I asked Shirley what she felt the business future was for
the company. She noted that Funrise was
purchased by publicly held Matrix a few years ago. It has turned out to be a solid fit and it is
unlikely that Funrise is going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
My final question was to ask her if she had any toys on her
desk. “Yes,” she replied, “I have a
Tonka Dump Truck as a reminder of where our roots are. The hopper is filled with paper clips. I also have our newest My Little Pony Plush,
‘Octavia,’ who is very much a part of our present.
I came away feeling that Funrise is in some good, steady
hands. In fact, if you meet Shirley,
take a moment to shake one of them. Sometimes
nice people do finish first.