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2010 Hall of Fame : George Manlove, CEO and President of Vann’s

Mastering the Calculated Risk

January 2010 By Jeff O'Heir
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You're at the top of your game and well-respected in all corners of the industry. You've built one of the strongest retail brands in your region AND online. Isn't it time to sit back a bit, take it easy and let the solid foundation you've created carry your business along?

Many executives would answer, "Yes." George Manlove, president and CEO of the seven-store Montana-based Vann's and Vanns.com, isn't one of them. Instead of sitting back, he enrolled last September in Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management's Executive MBA Program.

"It didn't surprise me because he sets a high bar for himself," said Walt Stinson, co-owner of A/V specialist ListenUp and vice president of the PRO Group, where Manlove serves as chairman. "As a company becomes more successful, the complexities increase. But it's the rare person who can rise to address those complexities."

Manlove has successfully addressed the many complexities of retail since taking over Vann's more than 25 years ago. But he believes his greatest achievement at Vann's was creating an e-commerce site when practically no one else in retail was doing it, and then seeing it progress into one of highest-ranked sites in the industry.

It was 1997 and "we were ready to take on the world," Manlove said. It was a bold statement, but when you look back on his career the move was a logical step.

To begin with, Manlove never thought he'd return to his hometown of Missoula, Mt., which happened to be the home of the original Vann's, which happened to be owned by Pete Vann, who happened to be the father of Manlove's high school sweetheart Jill. By 1982, the two had married, graduated from the University of Washington and were loving life in Seattle. Manlove had a great job at Apple, where he worked in the training division just as the company was launching the Mac. "Steve Jobs was so passionate," Manlove said, still impressed by the influence and success a strong business leader can achieve. "He made you believe failure is not and option, that we're going to do things differently and win."

Manlove was more than satisfied, but he still had an itch. An entrepreneur at heart, he always wanted to own a business. Pete Vann had approached him with the idea of taking over the company. Manlove's aging parents were back in Missoula. So he scratched the itch. "It took a while to make the adjustment. But with the way things turned out, how could I have any regrets," he said.

 

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