UT Knoxville, ’86
Part of the Tennessee Alumnus’ 100 Distinguished Alumni feature.
Build-A-Bear Workshop President and CEO Sharon John is proud of her Tennessee roots—and her slight southern twang.
“Having now lived and traveled across the country and around the world, I am often asked why I have never lost my accent. It’s because I haven’t tried. I’m pure Tennessee and proud of it,” she says. “UT gave me the values of hard work and perseverance, and it gave me the skill set to achieve my dreams. I will forever be grateful.”
Raised in Fayetteville, Tennessee, she graduated from Lincoln County High School, where she was a cheerleader and selected as class friendliest. She loved art and architecture and once dreamed of being an interior designer.
At UT Knoxville, she channeled her creativity into a bachelor’s degree in communications and advertising. She graduated in 1986 and began working for a local advertising agency.
In time, she moved to New York agencies where she worked on major accounts like Hershey’s and Mars. After earning an MBA from Columbia University in New York, she became an executive at toy giants Mattel and Hasbro, where she successfully turned around a variety of brands and business units. As president of Stride Rite Children’s Group, she helped reinvigorate the struggling kids’ shoe company and became known as a corporate game changer.
In 2013, she took the helm at Build-A-Bear Workshop and within a year had the ailing company making a profit again. She has continued this success over the past three years while repositioning the company for growth. Build-A-Bear has made Fortune’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for eight consecutive years.
John serves on the board of directors of Jack in the Box and is a member of various business associations, including the Committee of 200, an organization of female business leaders. She also serves on a number of not-for-profit boards, including that of KaBOOM!, a national organization that stresses the importance of play, and UT’s College of Communications and Information Board of Visitors. She received the college’s Donald G. Hileman Alumni Award in 2014.