There are big thinkers in this world, and there are big doers. In rare cases, you find people who are able to not only think grandly but also to carry those grand visions out.
If they are in business, these talented few usually make a lot of money. If they are in less monetary pursuits, they accumulate lots of accolades.
This past week, I crossed paths with two such remarkable individuals: Alex Malouf Jr. and Jack Kyle.
Alex came by the newspaper office to share the story on his decision to sell John-Richard, the Greenwood-based manufacturer he birthed with a former business partner 40 years ago.
John-Richard started small, a sideline for Alex while he was concentrating with his brother Bill on growing Malouf Furniture Co. from a mom-and-pop store on Carrollton Avenue into one of the largest furniture stores in the Delta — and definitely the nicest.
The expansion of Malouf Furniture in 1978 into a new building on U.S. 82 was one of Alex’s early leaps of faith. Its success depended on extending the store’s market reach beyond Greenwood to include roughly a 50-mile radius. Today, the store draws from about twice that far.
At some point, while Bill ran the furniture store, Alex’s energies became directed largely toward John-Richard. What started as a small little manufacturer of framed art steadily grew into a complete line of home furnishings — mirrors, lighting, furniture and various home accessories — all geared toward high-end consumers. The company lined up as customers some of the world’s most iconic department stores, from Harrods in London to Neiman Marcus in the United States.
Realizing he couldn’t compete price-wise if all his production remained in the states, Alex and his team made the connections to open factories offshore. Of the company’s roughly 750 employees today, about three-fourths work at plants in Vietnam, India and China.
Just as in the fashion industry, success in the home furnishings business depends on keeping up with new trends and creating them. Every six months, Alex says, he and his designers felt the pressure to come up with 700 new items to introduce at market, and decide on a like number to retire. He’d go to bed thinking about new products, and he’d get up in the morning thinking about them. It’s a testament to his drive that he kept that going until almost reaching 80 years of age.
Alex’s brain hasn’t just been busy thinking about his own business, either. He brought that same big-idea mentality to his service on economic development, school and hospital boards in this community. Those boards didn’t always do what he recommended, but they heard him out.
Most recently he’s been trying to convince Greenwood’s city leaders to develop Carrollton Avenue and Johnson Street into a live music venue, a miniature version of Memphis’ Beale Street or Nashville’s Lower Broadway. He also wants me to try to talk my boss into starting a Deltawide daily newspaper and give up on papers that struggle to serve individual communities whose population and retail base are shrinking.
It’s a lot harder to convince people of what they should do with their money than it is to invest your own.
That’s what makes Jack Kyle’s accomplishments impressive as well.
Jack has been spending most of his adult life not selling a product but an idea: namely, that art and culture are worth preserving and celebrating; that, yes, there might be some economic spinoffs to such an endeavor, but you support it financially because it improves the quality of life for many and separates us from the heathens.
Jack, who early this year moved back to his childhood home in Minter City, spent about a half-hour this past week rattling off to the Greenwood Rotary Club one suggestion after another that he had for improving the appearance and appeal of Greenwood and Leflore County.
Some of the ideas seemed certainly doable, such as cleaning up the Civil War site at Fort Pemberton and clearing the brush and small trees along the Yazoo River as it winds through Greenwood. Others were a bit of a stretch, such as turning the dilapidated former Florewood River Plantation into a world-class botanical and sculpture garden.
Jack, though, is such a force of personality that when he’s speaking, he makes you think it’s all possible. After all, he convinced well-to-do arts patrons, several corporations and the state government to bankroll four international art exhibits in Jackson from 1996 to 2004 that earned Mississippi many national compliments, not to mention a knighthood in France for Jack and honors in two other European countries.
Most would not have thought that was possible either — until it happened.
• Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.