Managing the ebb and flow of product popularity has been key to Russ Berrie's success. But so has managing growth. If the '60s and early '70s were Russ Berrie's era of establishment, the mid-'70s and '80s were the era of expansion. Realizing that a global approach was critical to future success, Berrie set up offices in Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong in 1977 to help the company's product development efforts and establish good relationships with Far East manufacturers. Russ Berrie and Co. U.K. followed in 1979.
Domestically, Russ Berrie added regional distribution centers across the country and set up warehouses in New Jersey and California. The company's in-house sales force, which began with Berrie and one full-time salesperson in 1968, numbered 600 worldwide in 1985--one year after Berrie took the company public on the New York Stock Exchange.
With growth came wholesale changes for Berrie. The man who once packed his own boxes and typed his own invoices found himself heading a company with hundreds of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. "I've had to go from being a doer to being a manager and a leader," says Berrie. And though he says his greatest joy now is seeing his employees excel beyond his own abilities, Berrie admits that reaching this plateau has been a challenge.
"When I was younger, I had a different ego," says Berrie. "I had to prove myself to myself. But as you get older, the ego starts to find its own place. I'm certainly dealing better with people today than I did 34 years ago."