The CEO As Visionary

The CEO As Visionary and Caring Agent of Change – From Corsets to Creating the Future

This man is always thinking…..Charles E “Gus” Whalen Jr.

CEO, Warren Featherbone Company and Chairman, Alexis PlaySafe, Inc

Charles E. Gus Whalen Jr., CEO of the Warren Featherbone Company. Mr. Whalen is a mild mannered southern gentleman, who delivered one of the most inspiring CEO keynote presentations I have ever heard at any business convention! As you might imagine I go to a few. Mr. Whalen, or Gus, as he likes to be called, needs neither booming CEO voice, nor Donald Trump bravado to leave a lasting impact. He makes an impact on everyone he meets, from front-line employees to his manufacturing clients to touching tomorrow’s generation. Two of his mantras are: “Our children are the living messages to the world we do not see” and “The only profit a company has is the community that it creates.”

Having a head for business and a heart to go with it is a rare CEO commodity. Gus shared with the audience of creative thinkers a few of his secret ingredients and core values… what he calls the underlying DNA of the Warren Featherbone Company. It’s that DNA which has allowed the company to survive and thrive.

Shake a Featherbone: Why is this little company so remarkable?

Do the Math: When the average life of an S & P 500 company is 15 years and the average life for small businesses even less– hovering around the 6 year mark, the Warren Featherbone Company has been in business for 125 years! Not bad for a company who began by making materials for women’s corsets-thank goodness we moved out of that fashion! Next, the company moved their business into cloth diapers-until Oopsi/Poopsi—Pampers came along. Change can be messy and bring the strongest company to its knees, but not this pioneer group, who stayed focused on the care of babies but moved from diapers to children’s clothing.

Over the years, the Warren Featherbone Company, started by Gus’s great grandfather, has continued to weather economic storms and consumer trends. The company has moved into diversified business interests including manufacturing, baby clothes, banking and agriculture. Quoting the words of Mark Twain, Gus has this advice for CEO’s: “If the horse is dead, get off” while maintaining connection and care for the people that you work with and the community that you serve. To survive the loss of one core product is remarkable, for a company to survive two miraculous. It must be Corporate DNA!

CEO Care beyond Corporate Borders:
Gus Whalen walks his talk. The Company’s foundation, The Warren Featherbone Foundation not only supports community education but is now actively lobbying to democratize philanthropy with U.S. House Resolution 2000 and U.S. Senate S. 1568. A visionary idea that would magnify community giving as we now know it. Just Imagine a Personal Philanthropy Account which works like a 401 K, allowing pre-tax contributions of charitable donations. If passed by Congress anyone with a generous nature regardless of wallet size, can become a philanthropist. In short you don’t need big bucks to make a big difference. Demonstration of CEO Care beyond corporate borders.

CEO Core Questions:
What is the DNA of your company and what are your core values that will endure market and technology changes? How aware and adaptable are you and your company to changing conditions? How do you care for your community? And when people meet you i.e….employees, loved ones, clients or strangers, do they feel that they are better and richer because of the experience or just an intrusion on your time?

CEO Charisma & Communication:
I’ve mentioned Gus’s words but even more powerful was his unquestionable charisma and communication skills. After his presentation at the Atlanta Creativity Exchange, I watched Gus from the corner of the room ask each audience member who came up to him (there were many) their name and where there were from. His smile is so genuine and his eye contact so engaging that there is never a question that when Gus Whalen meets you he cares about you. There is also an authenticity and passion for mentoring others. I watched him give teachers his personal card to arrange for a school tour of his educational center in Georgia, keeping true to his belief that “Children are the living messages to the world we do not see”. Hey wait a minute this guy is a busy CEO and Chairman! Most of us are not!

So what is Leadership? What is staying power? Yes, it’s certainly big vision and adaptability but it’s also paying attention to small moments, one person at a time. Thank you Gus for the honor of witnessing your CEO leadership in action! Head and Heart is in your DNA!