#RedefineGifting Podcast with Jim McCann, Founder of 1800Flowers
Jim McCann 1800FLOWERS
Nicole Donnelly, Jim McCann
In this inaugural episode of the #RedefineGifting podcast, TisBest’s Nicole Donnelly speaks with Jim McCann, Founder of 1800Flowers. Jim talks about how he got into giving AND the flower business. He also reminisces about how his parents cultivated a sense of commitment to community and service. He shares stories of his brother, who has a developmental disability, and how he became the inspiration for Smile Farms.
Smile Farms is a nonprofit helping to employ hundreds of young people and adults with disabilities. He also shares how several generations of his family continue to come together in business and generosity.
You’ll also learn about the knowledge Jim has gathered from psychology experts during COVID and how he’s been sharing that wisdom with his 1800Flowers community of over 7 million customers.
I hope you enjoy this conversation. Until next time, thank you for listening!
*available on Apple, Spotify, and most podcast players 🙂
Nicole Donnelly 00:02
Hi, I’m here with Jim McCann, founder of 1800Flowers, and now has a host of many other companies. And today we’re not talking much business, we’re talking philanthropy, and the good work that Jim has started doing, because of the organizations he’s involved with. And so Jim, will you tell me about the first time when you experienced a charitable act, whether you did something, witnessed something, volunteered? What was something that stuck with you? And how old were you?
Jim McCann 00:39
Well, Nicole, I would what comes to mind first, when you say that is a family activity. That is, I was born and raised in Queens, New York. And I am the oldest of five children. Our middle brother—so I’m the oldest, then I have a sister and a brother, and a sister and a brother. So sandwiched in the middle is a brother named Kevin, who was born developmentally disabled. And back when we were kids, it was the dark ages in terms of attitudes about mental health, and people with disabilities, and in particular, what was then referred to as mental retardation. And we were not affluent, we were the opposite of affluent. My dad was a painting contractor, and my mom was a homemaker. And the school system didn’t really have good programs for people like my brother Kevin. So I remember, my parents started a group that would meet on Saturday mornings, and create recreational and social activities for other kids with developmental disabilities. And they’d rent the, you know, some rooms in a local church, school, auditorium kind of place. And it was the only time that these parents could get together, relax a little bit, not be on guard for what was going to happen to their special needs kid. And the other siblings would be involved too, so that was the real social kind of interaction and bonding. And that was when we were very, very young. Throughout my brother’s life—and he’s doing quite well now, he’s 65 years old—throughout my brother’s life, he’s always been the centerpiece of our family. And as my parents explained to us, we all had our events—graduations, achievements in sports or other activities, religious ceremonies and getting married and having children and going to college, all those events in our lives. My brother Kevin didn’t have those. And along comes a very thoughtful family, the Kennedy family, and they create something called Special Olympics. And that was my brother’s opportunity to participate, and to have his day or days and have the family convene around him and his activities. So he was involved in a local Special Olympics on Long Island, and then the state Special Olympics, and then finally, the International Games. So every June, we would go to a different upstate New York City, which would host the Special Olympics. And what made an impression on my other brothers and sisters and I is the thoughtful and caring people that were attracted to these events. There’s a group, I don’t know what their formal name was, but we called them the huggers—that may have been their name. They were assigned, there was a different volunteer assigned to every athlete. The celebration wasn’t just around winning, it was around participation. And often in a track sprint, someone couldn’t get out of the blocks, and someone made it 15 yards, not 100 yards, and they were all warmly received and embraced and hugged. And I emphasize hug because the value of a hug is something I learned then, how everybody appreciates the expression of connection and caring. And that’s the earliest memory I have in terms of our actual involvement with a charitable activity. And so my brother did that for many, many years. And then the pinnacle of his athletic career as a Special Olympian was his participation in International Games and that first one that we participated in was at Notre Dame and in fact, we ran some fundraisers to help pay for it and be involved in a whole family. The whole thing was a wonderful, wonderful weekend. But that’s my memory about the impact on family, the commitment of communities. I remember Elmira, New York just came out in droves to help put this on and celebrated and ensure that those individuals, those with special needs, all of the volunteers, all of the bands that would donate their time to play for the party and, and the huggers and the families that would gather from all over, the organizers, the spirit of giving and caring was palpable. And it made a huge impression on me and my family, my wife, my children, all of them remember going to Uncle Kevin’s Special Olympics days. So that’s my earliest memory. And I and I saw the impact on Kevin, on me, our entire family and the communities that we were in.
Nicole Donnelly 05:59
That’s lovely. It’s making me emotional. I drove the van for the Special Olympics, driving the athletes from the airport to the events or from their hotels to the events, when I lived in Utah. And so we had the Winter Games there.
Jim McCann 06:15
Well, Utah put on one heck of an Olympics.
Nicole Donnelly 06:19
Yeah. Yeah, I used to compete in snowboarding and lived in Park City. And so that was, you know, pretty special.
Jim McCann 06:29
I met somebody this weekend that you look like and probably know, a young lady who’s very accomplished in the world of Alpine events, Lindsey Vonn.
Nicole Donnelly 06:41
I don’t know her personally. But of course, I know of her.
Jim McCann 06:44
Remarkable, remarkable young woman.
Nicole Donnelly 06:48
Yeah. Yeah, she’s amazing. So you have the family experience with the Special Olympics. At what point in your business did you get involved in philanthropic activities?
Jim McCann 07:06
Well, I think because of the coding that our parents impressed on us, and, and we lost our parents early, they both died at 62. They were four years apart, but both age 62 when they passed, so very young. But it was such an emphasis from them placed on us that we would stay involved in Kevin’s life, you know, the parent or the responsible sibling or the caring adult of a person with disabilities when they put the head on the pillow at night the last thought they have always is “What happens after I’m gone?” to their loved one. And we’re fortunate that I think we answered that very effectively for our parents before they passed. But we’ve been true to that—they’ve been gone a long time now, 30 years, just about—Kevin has been the centerpiece of our lives. So the other four of us, the other four siblings, we’ve never left the New York metropolitan area. I think one of the reasons none of us ever moved away is we’re a close family as a result of how our parents raised us and insisted that we be involved in Kevin’s activities and not only us, but our families, the next generation. So we’ve always been involved in community activities and philanthropic activities. And my brother Kevin now lives in a group home. It’s run by an organization called IGHL, Independent Group Home Living, founded by a terrific fellow 40-43 years ago. He created one group home when he was a teacher in a local college. And we had we had something here in the New York area called state hospitals, one of which was Willowbrook and a courageous reporter who’s still very, very well known and active, but remember Geraldo Rivera was working for ABC News at the time and he did an expose a on horrors of Willowbrook and Governor Cuomo, the first governor Cuomo decreed that those agencies would all be shut down. And so you have this wave of people coming out of those state facilities being pushed into the community and there was nothing for them to go to. So Walter Stockton, the founder of IGHL, said to his buddies, at the local rotary or something, let’s pass a hat, let’s raise some money, let’s open up a group home because so many of these people come from our community here on Long Island. So he started that and today, fast forward, IGHL is an agency that cares for about 8000 people a day between nursing home programs and day facilities and rehab facilities and group homes. And we’re very fortunate that my brother Kevin has lived for for 25 years now in one of the IGHL group homes and he’s doing well and he’s thriving and it’s so well run and we’re so thankful that there are people on this planet like Walter Stockton who are saint-like, and great entrepreneurs, even in the not for profit world, you know, as you’re so involved, there are some great entrepreneurial stories and, and Walter’s is one of them and, and that’s 8000 families a day that benefit from the good work of all the people who work at IGHL. And they’re there because Walter had a vision that these people should have the same opportunities that we all have. So it’s been a part of our life from very, very early childhood. And at Flowers we have—I think there’s something special about the people who are attracted to work in the flower and gift business. They tend to be a little bit more sensitive, a little, maybe less driven by the new tech conquest, although we make good use of technology. And so our systems, our brands have always been very, very active in their communities with a variety of charities. But it was about five years ago that Walter stopped in and called on my brother Chris and I—my brother Chris is the CEO of Flowers now. And he said, look, I have an idea. And the idea was: your brother, Kevin, and so many other people who live and work here in the IGHL community could and should be working in the local community, but I can’t find them jobs. So his idea was that we should write a big check, buy a piece of property, build some greenhouses and create some work opportunities. And we took up the torch from that. It’s now called Smile Farms. And we just yesterday authorized our 10th campus. And what we do is we find work, create work opportunities and career opportunities for people with primarily developmental but not just developmental disabilities. Because after you age out of school-age programs, there’s not a lot to do for people with disabilities. So we create a work environment. And as you know, work is a lot more than a paycheck. It’s a reason to get up in the morning. It’s a sense of self worth. It’s the dignity of work. It’s social. And so we’re having a blast over the last five years. And in the tradition of our parents, my siblings and I, our kids, our grandkids are all involved in Smile Farms and the activities—it’s a not-for-profit—of raising the money to finance the programs to help what’s now a few hundred families who have work and career opportunities, and dragging their families into involvement to help us grow every day to help more and more people.
Nicole Donnelly 12:39
I would love that if it were here. My husband’s brother is disabled as well. And he’s never, I don’t know, maybe he’s had a few jobs. But he hasn’t had one since I’ve known my husband, and he’s 46 now, and we’ve been talking about group homes, and, you know, what happens when his dad passes away.
Jim McCann 12:58
Those tough conversations, it’s tough stuff to think about. But yeah, it has to happen.
Nicole Donnelly 13:03
Yeah. This Smile Farms, that sounds so amazing.That is such a magical—my mom worked in a group home too, when I was young, and then I did as well. So I’ve been in that environment. And I feel like it’s so good for the social life of, you know, all the residents. I’d take them out on road trips, day trips, and to the store, you know, to do all the things and yeah, it was good.
Jim McCann 13:38
That led to my first career, you know, the family involvement. Growing up in New York City, my role models were policemen and firemen, the people I looked up to in the community I grew up in, and I thought for sure I’d be a New York City policeman. In fact, I went to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, to pursue my idea of being a policeman. But along the way, I started working in a group home, a home for teenage boys who had had tough backgrounds. And so I lived in and worked in a group home and group homes. I ran a group home program that was called St. John’s Home for Boys. And it was a wonderful career, as you started to hint at. It meant so much to me. I learned so much as a 20, 21, 22, 23, 24-year-old living in those group homes with 10 young men, most of the time just me and them. I learned so much about myself and of course them but it was a fast-track education and psychoanalysis all rolled into one.
Nicole Donnelly 14:43
I feel like it’s probably pretty good for emotional intelligence development because you have to be the calm, cool, collected one all the time.
Jim McCann 14:53
Even when you’re not.
Nicole Donnelly 14:55
Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Jim McCann 14:59
You know what I learned then? I wonder if it’s the same for you. These are 10 teenage boys from very tough circumstances. And what I painfully discovered, because I wasn’t very good at the work in the beginning. And I got better because of good mentorship and counseling from people who actually knew what they were doing. Even though they came from very tough circumstances, very tough backgrounds, they wanted to know that there was a set of rules and that they were fairly applied. They wanted to know that they were cared for, in fact, loved, and that they were safe, safe from the man, the institution, from one another, and from the challenges in the community because we were in tough communities. But the underlying aspect is, you know, I just told the story of the day. These are tough guys. I mean, stars of the football team, all-city athletes, some real bad kids. But I was talking the other day to someone about the importance of birthdays. I said, you know, we have 5,000 or so people at Flowers today. And I send a birthday email to everybody. And the response I get is remarkable. It’s how much people appreciate it. And I said, no matter how big and tough you are, you still want to be remembered on your birthday. And I described how we had a wonderful house mother in the first group home I lived in. I started working at four o’clock in the afternoon and finished up at night. And then I was on duty in my sleep—I had my room in the house—get up in the morning, get the kids out to school, and then the day counselor would come in, and Dorothy the house mother was a wonderful older woman. And she just cared for these kids, for everybody. But her caring was very evident. And every, every guy in the house, we knew their birthday, and they got to pick the dinner they wanted that Dorothy would cook for them, and we’d make them put this silly hat on with this string around it. It was the same hat, we kept it in a box. And they had to put this silly little ring along with this furry-headed thing on and these are bad guys, right? And they all said “No, I’m not gonna wear that, that’s ridiculous, you’re out of your mind!” and we’d sing happy birthday to them and they all picked dinner. They loved it. Okay. Mr. Jim, that’s what they would call me, Mr. Jim. My birthday is a week from Friday. I saw on the calendar that Ms. Dorothy’s going to be off. Can we switch my birthday to Thursday? Because I want her to cook my dinner. It was cute.
Nicole Donnelly 17:34
Yeah, that’s so sweet. So there are the group homes. And then what did you do after that before Flowers?
Jim McCann 17:49
Well, it wasn’t a long time. So I spent four years living and working in group homes. Then I got promoted to the administration of the home. And then it wasn’t 24/7 anymore. And it was wonderful work. And it was good people doing the good work for very, very little money, not for profit, social services. Doesn’t pay well. But everyone knows that going in. But you know, I’d married young, Mary Lou and I married very young, we started a family very young. And these kids want to do strange things like eat, buy clothes, and go to school. So I was always doing things on the side. Because I grew up working for my dad, I knew how to do things around buying a building, fixing it up and renting it out, and selling it and I had done that. And being an Irish Catholic kid from South Queens, I had a genetic requirement to be a bartender part-time. So I was doing that on Friday and Saturday nights to supplement my income from the home. And one of my customers there owned the flower shop across the street and told me he was going to be selling it. I said, really, how much are you going to be asking for it? He said $10,000. Well, serendipity is I just sold a building in Brooklyn and I had that fixed up and had a $10,000 profit. And so lo and behold, I said to him, you mind if I come work there a couple of Saturday afternoons before I go to work at the bar. And he said, Sure, but why? And I said, well, maybe I’m a buyer. And I did that and said, geez, the flower business is nice. You deal with people at nice times in their life, mostly. You get to interact with them. It’s retail, I can figure that out. I’ve always worked in retail. So I wanted to buy that flower shop. But I didn’t leave my job at St. John’s right away. I stayed on for several more years doing both because I needed the security of steady income because I went into the florist business not just to be a florist, which of course I became, but to build a business. And so six months after I opened the first flower shop, I opened the second. I did one every six months for 10 years. And then actually every quarter I’d open up another shop and then I eventually had to retire from St. John’s. So I’ve only done two career things. I did lots of part-time things, but the two career things were St. John’s home and the flower business. And they overlap for about eight years.
Nicole Donnelly 20:06
That’s a long time to be doing both.
Jim McCann 20:09
Well, the good news: I’m not smarter than too many other people, but I’m willing to work harder.
Nicole Donnelly 20:14
On the work harder and sending out birthday emails to everybody, when COVID hit, you also started writing emails to the customers which you consider your community. Is that right?
Jim McCann 20:36
We did indeed. At the advent of COVID, I started writing a letter to our customers, who we were more and more beginning to think about as a community. And what I mean by that is that I was trying to mimic that relationship we had with our customers 40 years ago, when we had the one flower shop on the Upper East Side in New York. Our customers weren’t just people who came in and buy flowers; they were people who we got friendly with, who we got to know. They were people who stopped by just to say hello, stop in, and ask for recommendations in terms of bringing your friend from out of town. What restaurant should they go to? What restaurants are hot? What shows are on? What’s going on? Who’s going to be at Rodney Dangerfield nightclub across the street from us? Are they any good? Can you get my name on the list? Can I drop off my dry cleaning? Can they come in and feel comfortable making themselves a mug or coffee? So it was genuinely a relationship and all these years later, 40 years later, 40 plus years later, we tried to mimic that same relationship with those customers who made us go as a business then. And the only way you can do that effectively is by using current communication tools: email, social media, and video content. And so when COVID struck last year, it just seemed logical to me that if we genuinely thought about our customer group as a community, that I ought to write and share what I and we were thinking, my brother and I what we were thinking about what was going on and a year ago, it was dark. Our fears were very, very primal. Would we get sick? Would any of our family or friends get sick? Would there be a business? Would we have access to health care? To supermarkets? Remember, we’re in the New York area where the virus first struck heavily. Hospitals were full. Stories of ambulances refusing to pick people up, there was nowhere to take them. Of course, the horrible stories of the refrigerator vans holding the bodies that were coming out of these places. It was a very dark, primal fear kind of time. So I took to starting to write the ideas and thoughts that my brother and I were feeling and sharing. And we started doing that and we just started going out on Sundays. We eventually called it the Celebrations Pulse letter. And it’s had a remarkable impact on us and our interaction with our customers, how we think of them more and more as a community. And the feedback and the dialogue that’s come from that has been nothing short of remarkable. Now it’s evolved over the year. The emotions aren’t so fearful and dark. And although the crisis continues on, it feels different. It looks different. The prospects are better. The vaccines are a miracle of science that we’re greatly benefiting from. There’s a long way to go. But it’s certainly looking brighter than dark. And, and we’ve taken to every Sunday sharing a theme message, which is: it’s all about relationships. During the course of this past year, Meredith Weinberg, who’s my assistant chief of staff, she and I have met some remarkable people who we call our COVID buddies because we’ve become very close and friendly with them. And we’ve never met in person. Thank God for this kind of technology, huh? Yeah. And, and, and three of them were three of the most remarkable renowned psychologists in the world, who we asked to help us think about our relationship with our community, what we’re feeling, what our needs are, and we took to calling them our Connectivity Council. And they’re remarkable and one of them in particular, Dr. George Everly from the Johns Hopkins School, and from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, was a tenured professor there. Extraordinary man, extraordinarily gifted person and thinker, psychologist of great repute and the expert on trauma and the impact on mental health and anxiety, etc. And his teaching that we’ve learned a lot this year is the key: you want to know who’s going to survive, who’s going to be the most resilient in times of trauma and stress? You want to know who has the best mental health? It’s the people with the most, best, and deepest relationships. It’s scientifically proven, there’s just no question about it. So that’s been the theme of our writing, thinking, researching this past year is to help our public, our community. Think about things like we’ve done forums on the impact of COVID on kids. I’m very concerned about my grandkids and in school, out of school, Zoom learning, lack of social intimacy. What’s going to be impact and what are we as parents and grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles, what should we be thinking about in terms of what we need to do? And George has been very helpful on that. Dan Willingham, a renowned psychologist, became an expert recently in early childhood development. His name is Dan Willingham, University of Virginia, PhD from a little school in Massachusetts called Harvard, thoughtful, caring, good, good man. And the most recent addition is a wonderful woman named Dr. Chloe Carmichael, who is just delightful. She’s just terrific. And she has a new book out about dealing with anxiety. And I’ll simplify the premise of the book, which is so much of what we’ve been writing about, which is that we’re all going to experience anxiety. And what she proffers in her book is: know that, understand that and understand anxiety is going to get your engine revving. And it’s going to create energy. So that energy can be overwhelmingly negative. Or if we’re conscious of it, and we develop the right framework for how to deal with it, we can turn that energy into a positive. And so it’s all about harnessing the energy that comes from anxiety, to help you to live more positively and healthy. And she’s terrific, and a third member of that Connectivity Council. So out of this darkness, so many good things in terms of learning, relationship, it’s not to minimize the half a million or so people now who have lost their lives and nine people for everyone that’s passed who are now experiencing grief. But they help us to think about it, frame it, and bring helpful tools, ideas, and dialogue to our community that helped them to live better, healthier lives.
Nicole Donnelly 27:45
That’s so thoughtful. I don’t know many organizations that would go to that degree to, to intentionally care for their communities.
Jim McCann 28:00
Let’s be honest here. First and foremost, it’s beneficial to us and our team members. And we just get to share it with our community. But this is selfish motivation here. Look, we get to talk to some of the smartest, most thoughtful, knowledgeable people in the world. So if you learn something, you want to share it. I want to share it with my brother, I want to share it with my brothers and sisters, I want to share it with my family, my kids, my teammates, and now our community.
Nicole Donnelly 28:31
So if we wanted to benefit from this, how do we start getting your newsletter? How do we start, you know, learning what you’ve been learning?
Jim McCann 28:44
Well, it’s easy. You just write to us at Fowers, and we’re happy to put you on the list. We just had a meeting just before this about how we’re hearing that question more and more because we just send it to our customers list. So 7 million people a week are getting our letter and reading our letter. And that’s a remarkable number, but more and more are asking, how do I share this without forwarding an email? And we just had a meeting so I don’t have a good answer for you on that yet. Just before you and I engaged here, we had a meeting and the team is telling me people want to know can they repurpose this letter? Can they use it elsewhere? I put in a video clip of a conversation I had with Chloe Carmichael, Dr. Chloe Carmichael in last week’s letter and tens of thousands of people clicked on it to get some of the pearls of her wisdom. I mean, she just knows how to take something very complex and make it simple and give you the three things you need to do that are easy to remember. She’s just, she’s so digestible. She makes everything so digestible, and she’s terrific but three, those three people I feel very close to each of them and all of them, and I’ve never met them in person. Strange.
Nicole Donnelly 29:55
It’s fortunate that we do have the technology to be able to connect.
Jim McCann 30:00
Wow. Wow, how different would it have been?
Nicole Donnelly 30:03
Yeah, TisBest had the best year ever last year,
Jim McCann 30:07
Tell me a little bit about this TisBest.
Nicole Donnelly 30:10
Um, we have charity gift cards. And it was somebody who came from technology. Simeon and Erik are the two co-founders. And Erik was a Harvard Law grad. And Simeon was in Microsoft. And they both had different reasons. Erik wanted to stop giving stuff and give more, you know, give to charity. And Simeon had been on a big project and wanted to celebrate the team. They all wanted time off to volunteer. And he said, Well, we’re technologists, let’s solve a charity problem with technology. And so they built this charity engine that taps into everyone who’s registered in the database, the 501c3 is pulled into the site. So if I give you a charity gift card, you can redeem it for any charity that you want. And so then it just amplifies giving.
Jim McCann 31:16
It’s terrific. I love when people go, hey, we can solve this with technology. It’s not my field. It’s not what we intended to do. But we can say we can fix this. I love that attitude.
Nicole Donnelly 31:26
Yeah. And we can figure it out. And so now we’re trying to do more to integrate with other people’s technologies, so that—you’re influential in the business world, and when someone’s starting a business, I think so many people now have heart and they want to give, they might not have a profitable business yet. They can give charity gift cards to vendors and to their employees. And still be in that, you know, marketplace of love and care at whatever scale works for them. Because, you know, not everybody’s got the funds to go start something like a big Smile Farm but a lot of people are on that path where they really do want to make a bigger impact. And that’s more of the business culture now than ever.
Jim McCann 32:21
Yes, indeed. It’s amazing. You know, you’re of that age. But I remember contemporaries of mine, boomers, thinking, Oh, these, these millennials, they’re so self-absorbed, and they really don’t want to work hard. Oh, my goodness, that couldn’t be further from the truth in terms of what we see at Flowers. These are people who, not only do they work hard, not only do they work smart but Chris and I have been blown away by how developing Smile Farms as the preferred charity, the primary active charity of Flowers and all our other brands, Harry and David, Wolfermens, Cheryl’s Simply Chocolate, etc. that when we have an event—so we do fundraising events, we do golf tournaments, we do trips to ball games, we do a gala every year, we do flower shows, we do lots of different things. The number of people who volunteer is overwhelming, and you want to know who the best performers in flowers are? The correlation is very, very high. It’s the same people, it’s the same people because they’re the people who throw themselves into things that are important to them, work, your volunteer activities, and it becomes social too. So these are terrific, bright, talented, young people who are smart and caring and give their time so, so frequently, it’s frankly, it’s something Chris and I talked about, it’s the benefit of Smile Farms that we don’t often talk about. We always talk about the obvious benefits, how it helps people like my brother Kevin to have meaningful work and learn job skills. But now it’s starting to evolve with Smile Farms so that Smile Farms campuses, which are run and staffed by people with disabilities, are now saying how we can help other people with other needs so we started out growing flowers and plants obviously because we know where we’re going to get them sold. But more and more we’re growing foodstuff. We have a big push on peppers. I’ll tell you why in a second and tomatoes and cucumbers. We do a lot hydroponically and we have one campus that’s the exception because it’s mostly young people 20 and under who are, 99% are wheelchair-bound, many of them have multiple disabilities. So for that we had to build high beds that they can work in out of wheelchairs, and they had to be wide enough apart that two wheelchairs could pass one another. And we went with a hydroponic setup there and we grow tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers. And we grew so many last year that these people from the Biscotti center in Albertson, Long Island, Nassau County, Albertson, were getting the Biscotti school van truck to take the excess produce bushels of cucumbers and tomatoes and peppers over to the soup kitchen nearby. And the look on their face and their expression when they came back, telling us about how they help people who had food insecurities. And we’re the primary user that produces because we feed everybody in Biscotti two meals a day, breakfast and lunch. And we use it first. But we were producing so much by the end of last summer when the heat of the Long Island summer. And these hydroponic beds, I was so productive, that we couldn’t use it all ourselves. So we were giving it to the food kitchen and to see that connection with people with one kind of need, helping other people with different needs. have meaning and purpose in their life. It’s a virtuous circle.
Nicole Donnelly 36:15
It is, it really is. So more recently, you acquired Worth magazine.
Jim McCann 36:25
Nicole Donnelly 36:27
And you want to tell me a little bit about what Worth is, and then how you ended upbringing, you know that feeling of love and impact into that, that project or company as well?
Jim McCann 36:44
Well, so when I stepped down a few years ago as the CEO of flowers, and my younger brother Chris assumed that role, I became the chair. So I’m still there full time, very actively involved. But it freed me up somewhat to create a family office investment platform, which we always wanted to do to invest in technologies we saw coming along beyond what we do to make ourselves a better floral and gift company. So we call that Clarim and, and I bought them with a terrific young man named Paul Stamoulis, who is a wall street veteran, and he just finished up this career on Wall Street. I said, Why don’t you come partner with us? Please help me build this investment platform called Clarim. And he did. So we invest in funds, mostly tech funds, and we’re a very active limited partner. We raised a spec recently to do some larger investments in companies that want to get directed at consumers, want to have a direct relationship with their consumers, want to be perhaps an omnichannel distributor, and want to make that digital leap to commit to being fully digital like we do with Flowers. And then the other thing Paul has done is he made some investments, direct investments where we bought a few companies. And we had a thesis that turned out to be bad timing. The thesis was magazine publications out there that would be better and bigger brands if they had a strong live component to them. Live events. Well, we did that right before COVID, so, no more live events, even though they were very successful. And we bought three different companies: Worth magazine, which came out of Fidelity which was founded by people out of Fortune Magazine, which is looking at the intersection of technology and everything else. So like you mentioned in charity, technology in charities, technology in healthcare, technology in the economy, all those things. And they were always a live events company with a publication, but we want to beef up their live events. And another one called CDX, which focuses on innovation, thought leadership, and they did primarily live events. Then COVID hits, live events are on hold. And we merged them into what we call Clarim Media. And they are focused on building their communities, their audience, and digital networks. One of the verticals within Worth is called Women and Worth. It’s a remarkable program, and it gathers 1000s of remarkable women from around the country, around the world. And so we at Clarim Media, we at Worth, we get to meet extraordinary folks. And so many of them— so I’ve done public board service for over 25 years. And lots of times I wind up as the head of the non-Gov committee on the boards that I’m on because my network and my opportunity allows me to find people that would be good for boards. And every board I know, every board I know or know of is looking to make sure they have the right blend of diversities on their boards. And so oftentimes I get the call, hey, do you know someone that could do blank? So you have Women of Worth and we get to know these remarkable people who might not hit the radar screen of a fortune 500 company or have the right tenure video, you know, to have risen to those levels, but we get to know them early. And so by accident, we wound up doing lots of placements. So, people, we knew with bullets who are looking for different kinds of diversity, heavily women because of the desire and appointive part of companies to have female diversity on their boards, and in part, because of the wealth and pool of people we get to know through Women & Worth in particular, that we decided, let’s make this a formal activity. Let’s step it up. And it’s not a business for us. We don’t want it to be a business. So we’ll do sort of as a nonprofit, but we’re having fun because it gives me a chance to meet remarkable folks, mostly women, but not just, almost all diverse in one way or another, whether it’s through disabilities or ethnicity or gender. And it’s, it’s, it’s catching a little life of its own. And we call it the Worth Board Fellows Program. And it’s becoming a little bit more real every day.
Nicole Donnelly 41:12
Excellent, thank you.
Nicole Donnelly 41:14
Where do you see that going in the next couple of years? Do you think you’ll be back to physical events?
Jim McCann 41:20
Well, yes, yes, we’ll be back to physical events. Where we have, we’ve done a lot of the digital events, obviously, our communities are growing, getting deeper and stronger during this time, which is happening. But it’s because we have such wonderful people and good leaders and those brands and at Clarim Media, Josh Campell, the CEO of the combined companies, Clarim Media. And yes, I’ll be speaking with Josh and his team this afternoon. I spoke with them earlier in the week, they have half a dozen events now on the calendar, they’ll be smaller and they’ll be discreet, and they’ll be super sensitive to doing it in a safe and healthy way. But there’s a clamoring for people to reconvene. And Josh and David Kirkpatrick who’s our editor in chief of veteran of Fortune Magazine, he was telling me just the other day that he was surprised that venues are booking up. There’s a real scarcity of space available for conferences and events because people are dying to reconnect.
Nicole Donnelly 42:32
I could see that. And I think, you know, once we can travel more, that’s going to get booked up, everybody is going to be heading out.
Jim McCann 42:41
I traveled this past weekend. It was the first time I’ve traveled like that. And it almost felt normal. Everyone was wearing masks, the airlines have done a really good job of building safety as the number one priority, in this case, health safety. And I was quite comfortable doing it. So I have a board member, a mentor, and a friend. His name is Adam Half. He’s a board member of flowers. And he’s one of the great marketing seers, visionaries that I know. And he reminded me eight months ago, that we are people, a culture of individuals who are in a hurry to forget. So he said, Don’t think that this link is going. As soon as those people feel safe, they’re going to be back out there. I think he’s right.
Nicole Donnelly 43:35
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And so one last question before we wrap this up. What it sounds like you’ve done a lot that is going to live well beyond you and make an impact in the community with Smile Farms, and with a lot of the things that you’re you’ve been building up and with Worth and I’m curious if there’s what is it that you want to be remembered for? What’s the legacy that you want to leave here?
Jim McCann 44:10
Well, I never want to leave. So I want to be remembered as a guy who never left.
Jim McCann 44:18
You know, that’s an uncomfortable question for a lot of people. Me too. But I will tell you that I’ve never had more opportunities to do more fun and interesting things than I do now. It’s especially interesting to me if it involves my family, I have three grown kids, I have six and a half grandkids and anything I can do that involves them well that we’re and we’re doing more and more things together in business and our charitable activities. So to see that my oldest son, my middle child is very active in Smile Farms. He’s our MC with a good friend of ours who’s one of the preeminent media training people in the world. So to see my son work with Jack Ronchetti, and see him learn to be a good public speaker and emcee at our events, to see my niece organize every summer out, it’s not a fundraiser, it’s a friend-raiser. When we take 800 900,000 people to a bowl game together on behalf of Smile Farms, and they bring their kids and grandkids. So those are the kinds of things that interest me most, and I’m proudest of, and that I’m focused on doing more and more of is doing things that involve our families. And, getting down to my grandkids. My oldest grandchild is a 12-year-old granddaughter, and to see her now aware of the things we’re doing and asking me questions about Smile Farms. And now that they’re getting older, they’re coming to Worth and to economic events and learning, and they’ll say, I heard you on the zoom call the other day with that man who develops real estate all around the world. And you guys were talking more about the community than you were talking about the cost of raw materials. I said, Well, his name is Mike Melman, and he’s the founder of a company called Discovery Land. And what he creates are really fancy communities that my grandkids have visited. That is what it’s all about, when I say community, you think I mean houses. When he says community, he’s talking about the relationship between people who feel like they’re special, because they belong to a beach club on Long Island called the Dune Deck, because it’s more than a beach club. It’s a community. And so they have this dialogue with my 12-year-old granddaughter about the difference between community, a place, and community, a sense among people. I’m so happy that she was nearby to hear me and Mike have that conversation. So that’s the stuff that gets me.
Nicole Donnelly 47:09
I think you’ll probably have many more conversations with your family about those sorts of things.
Jim McCann 47:14
I’m just trying to hang around so we get those opportunities.
Jim McCann 47:23
My grandkids, I found out when they were here with us last, keep track of the things I say that they think are funny. When I told her I was particularly fond of pelicans. I’ve heard that back about a dozen times now because they were down to visit us in Florida and we have these beautiful pelicans here. I thought I’m particularly fond of those and I didn’t realize how silly it sounded, but, but I heard it back from them a lot. A list of “Papa-isms.”
Jim McCann 48:09
Thanks Nicole, it’s been a pleasure to get to know you a little bit and chat it up. Yeah, thank you.
Nicole Donnelly 48:13
Thank you so much for this.