Leading a company committed to kids

Mark Breitbard, MBA 97

CEO, Gymboree
San Francisco

Before Gymboree CEO Mark Breitbard rolled out the company’s new branding platform this year, he filmed the first take of an internal corporate video at a San Francisco mall.

Dissatisfied with the formal tone, he scrapped the video and asked his 7-year-old daughter, Davis, to interview him instead. “Why can’t kids run Gymboree? Do you have fun here?” she asked. Breitbard was much happier with the playful, personal results.

“I’ve never been a super corporate kind of leader,” he says in his sleek downtown San Francisco office. “Everything’s had my own personality on it.”

Founded by Marin County mom Joan Barnes in 1976 to create places for parents and children to play together, Gymboree has grown into a $1.2 billion business. Breitbard oversees 550 Gymboree Play & Music centers, 631 Gymboree children’s clothing stores, 133 upscale Janie and Jack retail shops, and 332 budget-priced Crazy 8 shops.

Despite growth, Gymboree has retained its focus 
on family. Nearly 96 percent of Gymboree’s workers are women, and flexible hours and parent support groups are part of the culture.

“This is a culture that refers to itself as a family,” Breitbard says. “We’re committed to caring about kids in everything we do.”

Drawn to fashion as an undergrad working in the UK, Breitbard says the industry beckoned during business school. “At Haas, I reached out to Levi’s, Gap, and Tommy Hilfiger,” he says. “It was so clear to me that this was a language I spoke.”

Breitbard spent more than a decade at Gap Inc. after graduation, rising to Gap president of North America. He also has held leadership posts at Levi’s and Abercrombie & Fitch. His experience has spanned everything from sourcing to marketing, real estate to Web commerce.

In January, Breitbard accepted the CEO job at Gymboree, where he is often called “dad-in-chief.” Since taking over, he has been busy building his management team and charting the company’s course for the next three to five years. What he learned in economics, branding, and finance classes at Haas helps him every day, Breitbard says.

“Now that we’re in 40 countries I think of Dean Rich Lyons’ International Finance class often because we’re dealing with currency and all sorts of issues,” he says.

With the long hours of a first-year CEO, Breitbard admits getting quality time with his three kids, ages 4 to 9, requires meticulous planning. He coaches his daughter’s soccer team and catches all their performances at school. “I am very vocal about times I leave the office to go to parent-teacher conferences,” he says. “I try to make every moment with my family count.” –Kim Girard

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