Business / Editor's Picks

Simply letting children be children

By Wu Yiyao in Shanghai (China Daily) Updated: 2012-04-19 09:47

Play and music sector

Gymboree's play and music business has grown quite rapidly. The reason for that is Chinese customers share the same values as Gymboree.

"We're passionate about childhood, families and celebrating childhood and education. Chinese customers are passionate about family, children and education," said McCauley.

More than 200 locations have been opened in more than 90 cities across China in the past decade.

Play and music centers first entered first-tier cities from 2002. Now, in third- and lower-tier cities around China, parents are signing up their children to various classes.

Gymboree classes aim to develop the nature of children through playing with music, making friends, learning various cultures, communicating with others and appreciating the beauty of life.

At play and learn classes, Gymboree's most popular, children may expand the body and mind through sensory stimulation, problem-solving games and storytelling. Music classes enhance children's development and love of music through song, dance, movement games and instruments. With an array of musical styles, music classes help children explore the power of rhythm, melody, tonality and beat while nurturing key physical, social and intellectual skills.

"We just let kids be kids," said McCauley.

The China market has become an important part of Gymboree's global success. In the fourth quarter of 2011, Gymboree Corp established an Asia-Pacific regional head office in Shanghai. Plants for manufacturing children's retail products have also been established in China.

Although Gymboree originated in the United States, there is not much contrast between the American way of raising children and the Chinese tradition of nurturing a child, said McCauley.

"We actually have seen more similarities than differences. The similarities are that we are passionate about the same things. We both are passionate about education, we value childhood, we value family, we value the roles of parents in children's lives," said McCauley.

One thing that makes Gymboree unique is a global perspective that cannot be duplicated.

"We are able to learn from the Chinese, are able to learn from Western cultures, from Eastern cultures and bring that together and learn from each other - that's such a beautiful thing," said McCauley.

Take the play and music program, for example. The music played is from Africa, from Asia, from Europe and from almost every corner of the world, bringing cultures together that create such a unique culture.

"Some of the examples of Chinese music are also played in other countries, such as A Puppy Dog, Let's Go Paddling the Boat, and Throwing the Handkerchief, and kids in other countries may enjoy the beautiful Chinese melodies while kids in China, since childhood, fall in love with Mozart's works," said McCauley.

McCauley said he has observed a trend that parents in China are attaching more importance to global experiences. "Our program also aims to educate the kids to be global citizens by exploring stories, sounds, sights and dance steps shared by children around the world," said McCauley.

Keeping learning

One of world's youngest CEOs and chairman of the board of directors of one of the world's largest corporations for products and services for children, McCauley said he keeps learning from wise people regardless of their age.

"I often learn from kids because they are honest and straight," said McCauley.

It is no surprise that McCauley recognizes that children have their own ideas and tastes, which is something that needs respect.

McCauley said his family education since his childhood had a strong effect on his current business ideas.

"When I was a child, my mother, a very educated woman who spontaneously chose to be a housewife to take care of children, told me two things. One is that my parents would always love me and the other is always remember who you are," said McCauley.

Positive emotional attachments and the recognition of a true self led McCauley to do things in his own way.

After graduating in American studies from Brigham Young University in the US in 1997, he got his first job framing houses, which focused on finding out solutions and realizing them by hand.

Then he joined a shoemaker and worked as a business solution manager at a global retail chain before he started playing a significant role at Gymboree in 2001.

After McCauley ascended to the CEO's chair in January 2006 at the age of 33, Gymboree posted its first profitable second quarter in 10 years and McCauley was rewarded with the chairman's spot and a massive rise in stock value. In his first six months, McCauley increased the company's gross margin from 40.1 percent to 46.2 percent and net margin from 1.9 percent to 6.9 percent.

In 2007, he was listed as one of America's Youngest CEOs by Forbes magazine.

"I like to think big and make a difference," said McCauley. He attributed the shaping of his thoughts to leadership experience from a young age in the Boy Scouts and community service.

McCauley said he values people's opinions and believes that everyone has the potential to perform with excellence, saying one needs to respect work colleagues and give team members enough space and flexibility to realize their plans, which will trigger more innovation.

"Gymboree is a flat organization: We don't work on hierarchical structures," he said.

Children, too, have their own insights into the world.

"Great leaders learn from people around regardless of age and I respect those who have experience and wisdom as well as those who are innovative, brave and do not fear that they might lose something if they make a mistake and dare to speak out about what they want," said McCauley.

He recalled how his son taught him about honesty and frankness. His son, a good football player, said his teammates did not pass the ball to him. McCauley came up with a detailed plan to invite the teammates to play together with the children passing the ball to one another.

"But my son said, 'Why not just tell them to pass the ball?' And he did so and the kids did as he asked," said McCauley.

The courage and assertiveness of children is what McCauley looks for and picks up in his business world, he said. When he talks about expansion, he points to the importance of dedication - keeping one's eyes and mind open.

"As a company, we always keep a very open mind about growth and always look at every opportunity to grow. Sometimes this includes acquisitions. To date, most of our growth is organic through the expansion of our existing brands and the launch of our new brands. We created many brands and grow them," said McCauley.


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