Jack Mitchell Mitchells/Richards

because his family business makes an art of customer service

Jack Mitchell starts his morning at 5 o'clock with a cup of coffee and the previous day's sales report. The clothing retailer lives for data. His company's custom-made software tracks what customers buy, as well as their golf handicaps, where they work, and whether they root for the Yankees or the Red Sox. "The technology," he says, "has helped us grow the business by getting closer to the customer."

Providing stitch-perfect service is exactly what Mitchell's dad, Ed, had in mind when he founded the business with his wife, Norma, back in 1958. He died last year, at 98, having passed ownership to his sons, Jack and Bill, in the early 1970s. They have since begun distributing stock to their seven children. Despite the changing of the guard -- and the fact that annual sales have grown to $65 million -- the company's reputation for superior service remains unblemished.

This hasn't happened by luck. CEO Jack and vice chairman Bill decided that their offspring could not join the company until they'd worked outside for five years. To be sure everyone stays on message, the family meets once a week. As for Jack, 66, he's preaching the Mitchells/Richards gospel to others via his book, Hug Your Customers (Hyperion, 2003) -- and darting around the stores, taking care of customers.

Donna Fenn

26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs

  1. Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Omnimedia
    because she took one for the team
  2. Richard Branson, Virgin Group
    because he's game for anything. In fact, everything.
  3. Michael Dell, Dell Computer
    for being brilliantly straightforward
  4. Jim Sinegal, Costco
    because who knew a big-box chain could have a generous soul?
  5. Diane von Furstenberg, Diane von Furstenberg Studio
    for staging an elegant comeback
  6. Julie Azuma, Different Roads to Learning
    for offering hope and help to the parents of autistic children
  7. Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing
    for setting limits
  8. Ray Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies and other companies
    because he is Edison's rightful heir
  9. Craig Newmark, Craigslist
    for putting the free in free markets
  10. Jack Mitchell, Mitchells/Richards
    because his family business makes an art of customer service
  11. Frank Robinson, Robinson Helicopter
    for whipping an entire industry into shape
  12. Mark Melton, Melton Franchise Systems
    for giving immigrants their shot at the American Dream
  13. Michelle Cardinal & Tim O'Leary, Cmedia and Respond2
    for rewriting the rules for husband-and-wife teams
  14. Mike Lazaridis, Research in Motion
    because someone had to stand up for all those frustrated engineers
  15. Trip Hawkins, Electronics Arts and Digital Chocolate
    for still scrapping
  16. Warren Brown, Cake Love and Love Cafe
    because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery
  17. Muriel Siebert, Muriel Siebert & Co.
    for being a notable first with a worthy second act
  18. Chuck Porter, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
    for verging on reckless
  19. Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut
    for setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business
  20. Barry Steinberg & Craig Sumerel, Direct Tire and Auto Service
    for showing the power of the peer group
  21. Victoria Parham, Virtual Support Services
    for serving as a mentor to military spouses
  22. Tom LaTour, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
    for staying at fleabag hotels so that we don't have to
  23. Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, Mitchell Gold
    for creating a true comfort zone
  24. Izzy & Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva
    for kicking sand in the face of conventional wisdom
  25. Tony Lee, Ring Masters
    for saving 16 jobs, including his own
  26. Rueben Martinez, Libreria Martinez Books and Art Galleries
    for simultaneously building a business and nurturing Latino culture
Published on: Apr 1, 2005