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Ideas Made to Matter

Leadership

How this CEO used ‘kindness and math’ to save his company

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When James Rhee addressed his employees at a 2013 town hall for the struggling clothing retailer Ashley Stewart, the outlook wasn’t great.

A former high school teacher turned “wheeling and dealing” investor, Rhee had just agreed to take on the role of CEO for the company, which was heading toward liquidation.

But instead of bracing his employees for the worst, Rhee told them “if we can center kindness and math together, then maybe we can get out of this together,” he said during a recently released TED@BCG Talk on “The Value of Kindness at Work.”

“And you know, what happened was that the people who really wanted to solve these problems once and for all, they stepped up,” said Rhee, who used that buy-in as motivation to create a business plan built on goodwill, trust, and investment in people.

By the time Rhee left Ashley Stewart in 2020, the company had not only recovered, but had expanded its brick-and-mortar stores and ecommerce platform.

Today, along with being a founder and CEO, Rhee is a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan where he teaches organizational systems.

Watch Rhee’s full talk below (a transcript is also available) to learn more about how he used a “culture of kindness” to transform a struggling company into a profitable employer that rewards goodwill.

For more info Meredith Somers News Writer (617) 715-4216