I was the reluctant CEO, the naive CEO. I took the helm after Gymboree had taken a long walk through a dark forest. There had been pressure to grow the business and re-invigorate the brand — but with no consideration for what the brand stood for. That had to change. Our customers kept telling us how stupid we were to get rid of our colorful mix-and-match designs and replace them with trendy, adultlike clothes for kids. We had to innovate through the customer’s eyes. To turn a company around, you can’t turn your back on the customer.
In those first 18 months, we also paid close attention to our people. One thing we do now is get feedback on every line from the stores and then respond. We say, “Here’s why we’re using that suggestion” — or not. The idea is that we always close the loop on communication.
LISA HARPER (LHARPER@GYMBOREE.COM) REJOINED GYMBOREE AS SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF DESIGN IN 1999 AND ASSUMED THE ROLE OF CEO LAST FEBRUARY.