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Chris McCann is CEO of 1-800-Flowers, a floral and gourmet food gift retailer and distribution company with over 3,000 employees. The company was started back in 1976 when Chris’s older brother opened his first flower shop. Chris joined the business in the 1980s and the brothers have worked together ever since. Chris was named to the National Retail Federation’s list of people shaping retail’s future in 2018. Chris didn’t learn leadership skills by attending a top-tier university; Chris learned how to lead by those he surrounded himself with. Sometimes the best leadership lessons come from those around you.

Chris worked other roles inside his brother’s business in the early years, including delivering flowers to customers, but once he decided to go full time, he took on a leadership role and learned along the way. Later on, he took some leadership courses at Cornell University, but in the early part of his career, he had no formal training. Mostly he learned from other leaders he knew, including Jamie Dimon, who would become CEO of JPMorgan, and Ed Miller, who would become CEO of AXA Financial.

Chris gave an example of a time when he had turned to Ed for advice when having to let a person go:

“As we were growing our company, we had people who were with us for a long time. Sometimes you run into a situation where the job outgrows the person, but the person was very loyal to you and very important in growing the business early on. Letting that person go would be very difficult to do. I remember having conversations with Ed about this. He said, ‘You’re not being loyal to that person’. I said, ‘Well, I sure am, I’m keeping them in a job’. He told me that loyalty is making sure every person on your team is in a position to succeed, whether inside or outside your company. So if the job has outgrown someone and you don’t have a position in your company, it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to get them the right job outside of your company. That really transformed the way I thought about people.”

Chris also learned a lot from his brother, who not only started the flower company, but also worked full time as a social worker for troubled boys. Jim brought a mantra into 1-800-Flowers that he learned from his time as a social worker. When working with kids in difficult situations, Jim said he needed to first build a relationship with them before he could connect with them and help them. So he brought that mantra into the business: you build a relationship first, you do business second. That really shaped Chris as a leader.

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