It’s the time of year to open up our pocketbooks and participate in supporting our retail economy in this country. Between Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, we have been prodded to get in gear to do our holiday shopping.
A few years ago, Bill and Elizabeth (Liz) Brister were lamenting the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States and the “economic impact on once-thriving communities and on individuals who are not equipped to prosper in a service-dominated economy.”
That discussion led them to “put their money where their mouths were” and try to have an American-made Christmas. As they embarked on that process, they soon realized it was harder than they thought. The Bristers realized that most of the products on consumer shelves are not made in the United States, and they found it very time consuming to try to determine the country of origin for many items. Even online, they could not find any market-leading “Made in the U.S.A.” website.
Their experience revealed a gap in the marketplace and led to the launch of their e-commerce business American Station in 2011. The company’s website is designed to be a convenient shopping experience on a platform that highlights the quality of American-made products and that “tells the story” of the companies and people that produce them.
Both Bill and Liz bring a wealth of experience to this venture.
Bill, a native of Brookhaven, earned his undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in economics and obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas in finance.
He joined the faculty at Millsaps College in 1989, and he currently serves as the director of the Executive MBA Program and as assistant professor of finance.
Liz grew up in North Little Rock, Ark., and earned her undergraduate degree from Tulane University and her MBA from Millsaps College. Liz is the manager of civic and social responsibility for Entergy Corp. Previously, she served as the external affairs manager of Entergy Mississippi for four years, and she spent almost 20 years working in the nonprofit sector including positions with the Foundation for the Mid South, Mississippi Museum of Art and Mississippi State University.
They shared with me some great insights on leadership and principles of success in business. Bill noted: “As a leader, it is important try to make something happen — whether it is managing change, creating a new product or service or implementing a tough decision.” To achieve this type of execution, he believes it is important to follow the KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) method, and to be clear on the steps that it will take in order to reach your desired goals. Bill also raised a great point that as a leader you have to “know what is attainable and not attainable.”
Liz emphasized the importance of being an enthusiastic leader and to get people excited about the task to be accomplished. She shared, “It is important that leaders and followers have a shared vision.” Liz is motivated by stretch goals, and believes we should never shy away from a challenge. She said great things get accomplished when we “utilize the entrepreneurial spirit, take risks and move forward despite the challenges.”
The Bristers, like other successful entrepreneurs, identified a market niche that they are passionate about and have boldly executed on a vision.
They note that they know many good businesses do outsource overseas, and they are not trying to disparage any company that does. Rather, they want to emphasize the positives of “Made in the U.S.A” companies and to help promote and get their stories out into the marketplace. The Bristers are a great example of how innovative Mississippians continue to make a difference in the business community on a national scale.
Up Close with Bill and Liz Brister, American Station
Bill: “I worked at a service station changing tires and oil in junior high, and I worked after school in the public library during high school.”
Liz: “I worked in my father’s insurance agency answering phones and entering claims data.”
Bill: I am currently reading Rising Tide by John M. Barry
Liz: I am currently reading Who I Am: the autobiography by Pete Townshend
Proudest Moment as a Leader:
Bill: “When I run into former students and they tell me that I made a positive impact in their lives.”
Liz: “Launching American Station! It is the first business I have ever owned and it is also the undertaking of a dream that was realized.”