Cigarette-smoking Stack played it cool at Joann’s

Eric Olson, SBJ EditorThere was a time when Springfield manufacturing and business-management guru Jack Stack was a 37-year-old, cigarette-smoking, pool-playing regular at Joann’s Expressway Lounge. And some of that time was spent on the clock, while Stack and other senior managers mingled with line workers of Springfield Remanufacturing Corp.

Oh, those were the days.

So goes the story from a 1986 Inc. magazine cover article that introduced Springfield’s golden boy to the masses. Stack was just three years into a rescue plan for the International Harvester division that he moved here from Chicago with orders to shut down. He couldn’t do it, saw its potential, and the rest is history.

I’ve not lived in Springfield long enough to know about Joann’s lounge on West Chestnut Expressway – described in the Inc. cover story as “a yellow cinder-block bunker, fringed along the roof with blue shingles.” Apparently, as a late afternoon/early evening sanctuary for SRC staff, it marked the place where typical personnel barriers were broken during the iconic company’s formitave years.

The infamous lounge was at 4249 W. Chestnut Expressway, according to the 1988 Springfield City Directory that I dug up in Springfield Business Journal’s newsroom and dusted off to reference. A cross-check of that address takes me to La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant. (La Hacienda? Really? How disappointing.)

But the Inc. story doesn’t stop there. That 6,600-word piece kicked off a long relationship between Stack and the national publication, culminating with Inc.’s top brass implementing Stack’s open-book management style.

Today, Stack serves as a regular contributor, and he has a blurb in the current issue.

Stack is among Inc.’s “favorite entrepreneurs” (including executives at Cisco Systems, The Home Depot and Whole Foods) to offer tips for steering companies through economic times that normally trip up small businesses. In the January/February 2009 story, “The Ultimate Business Tune-up For Times Like These” he’s still preaching how to use numbers to show people that they are more than just numbers.

Stack gives his daughter’s downtown Springfield clothing boutique, Staxx, as an example.

In this difficult economy – especially for retailers – Meghan Chambers taught her staff to be financially literate. “Instead of telling them how to arrange skirts and bras,” he writes, “she is telling them about inventory turns and margins. … Now it’s the associates who are selling.”

Show us the numbers, Jack: Staxx grew October monthly sales nearly 50 percent between 2007 and 2008, when it recorded an $81,000 revenue month.

This while fellow downtown retailer, Pastiche, closed its doors and another, Shae Belle, is looking for a capital partner in order to stay afloat.


2 Responses to “Cigarette-smoking Stack played it cool at Joann’s”

  1. 1 Frank Shipe February 9, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    For sheer reading pleasure, I think this is one of the best pieces you’ve ever done. Bravo, and more, more.

  2. 2 Eric Olson February 9, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Thanks so much, Mr. Shipe. Did you ever frequent Joann’s? Of course, I’m looking for a another good story here.

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