Chris McCann
1-800-Flowers CEO Chris McCann (Photo by Bob Giglione/Long Island Press)

When Chris McCann’s big brother Jim bought his first flower shop in Manhattan in 1976, Chris, then 15, helped out on weekends, learning the floral business even as the older McCann began to transform it. Chris was named chief executive in July 2016; Jim continues as executive chairman. Contributing Editor Warren Strugatch caught up with Chris to find out what it’s like to succeed one of America’s iconic marketers.

Long Island Press: I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when you and Jim discussed your promotion. What was that conversation like?

Chris McCann: It was a rather long process. We talked a very long time. We had an unidentified time line but the process was built on the belief, which we’ve held for a long time, that there should be two at the top. Because Jim and I were able to interact smoothly, he could step into my shoes, and me into his. It made the transition very smooth.

LIP: Tell me about your management philosophy.

CM: My approach is very informal and approachable. I want to engage people from all levels of the company. I encourage them to jump right in, not be afraid of failing – as you as long as you learn from your mistakes. No one’s ever fired for making a mistake. I’d rather hire someone who gets speeding tickets than someone who gets parking tickets.

LIP: What was your family background and how did that influence you?

CM: My father had a painting and contracting business, which he inherited from his mother. We all grew up in the family business. We shared a lot, both pitfalls and benefits. I learned my management style from my father. I saw him treat people individually, based on who they were. I learned from him to adapt to people’s styles, not the other way around.

LIP: What would you name as your leading tangible contribution to 1-800-Flowers?

CM: I would start with technological innovation. I am not a technologist but I recognized early on that technologies change human behavior. I knew that people were more comfortable calling on the phone than walking through the door. We embraced that and created a brand around the 800 phone number.

LIP: Today that’s called disruption.

CM: We seized the opportunity to disrupt the floral industry. Now we’re embracing Mobile Commerce and Artificial Intelligence Commerce. We’re seeing the convergence of a bunch of technologies – Big Data, Analytics, Voice Computing – all being called Conversational Commerce. It’s all about having conversations with the consumer when it’s convenient to them

LIP: How are you taking advantage of this?

CM: Our philosophy is to engage early. Jump in and learn. Adapt and make changes. In terms of Conversational Commerce, we are still in the adaptation stage.

LIP: What’s it been like, working under Jim McCann?

CM: I remember him saying: ‘We have a chance to build something big in the floral industry.’ His definition of big was always different than mine. He always has a bigger vision in mind. I would have been happy growing in the New York area. Jim is a classic entrepreneur. In my view he’s a marketing genius. He has an instinct I don’t have. I forced myself to focus on the operational side to complement his skill set.

LIP: By your standards, has your approach been successful?

JM: I’ll tell you what my mother said when I asked her that question. She said she was proudest that Jim and I, despite our 10-year age difference, had become friends.

Strugatch is a journalist and consultant. His website is InflectionPointAssoc.com.

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