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Mrs. Fields: Her Life as the Top Cookie : The Chips Never Seem to be Down for the Smiling Founder of the Multimillion--Dollar Food Empire

October 16, 1987|JEANNINE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

PARK CITY, UTAH — There is a black-and-white photograph of Randy Fields' wife hanging on the wall of his office. In the picture, she is standing behind a podium, smiling her brilliant 1,000-watt smile, her fists raised in the air.

"That," Randy Fields says emphatically, "is Debbi. Of all the thousands of pictures that have been taken of her, that says it all. It gives me goose bumps just to look at it."

If the essence of Debbi Fields can be captured in a picture, it might as well be this one. The president and CEO of Mrs. Fields Inc. does more than shepherd her wildly successful, multimillion-dollar cookie empire. As company founder, she is also its spokeswoman, head cheerleader, quality-control fanatic, employee booster, demanding boss and even occasional over-the-counter cookie saleswoman.

Kids and Cookies

Now in the midst of personal and professional expansion--she is pregnant with her fourth child and the company has just launched into candy-making--she has written her autobiography, entitled appropriately enough, "One Smart Cookie," a true American success story of a girl from East Oakland, daughter of a welder and the youngest of five girls, who always felt unpopular, who lacked a college degree and was labeled a low-achiever but who nevertheless managed to rise out of it all at the age of 20 and, using a borrowed $50,000, begin to build her dream.

Today, at 30, Debbi Fields remains the driving force behind a company that last year did $87 million in sales. The dream is clearly alive. And the woman who remains relentlessly perky and boundlessly energetic through a day packed with meetings and phone calls is clearly loving it.

What makes Debbi run? What makes a woman totally commit her life to selling, as the company jargon goes, a warm and wonderful cookie in a feel-good way?

8:30 a.m: Fields, dressed in a teal-and-black jacket with a black ruffled skirt and spike heels, greets her visitors with her trademark huge smile and big hello. "This'll be fun!" she says, quickly adding, "I don't know that I'm that interesting."

With that she gets to work. With her blond-tinted hair falling in soft curls around her shoulders, part of it caught up in a black bow, she furiously dials the push-button phone on her desk while her eyes focus on a two-inch stack of computer printout sales updates for the 500-plus red-and-white cookie stores in the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, Britain, Canada and Australia. Her right hand, when not dialing, is clutching a mug of decaf or jotting notes in her overstuffed day planner. She is a blur of motion.

" I never thought I was pretty. The one thing that Randy does for me is he says something nice about me. It means so much in terms of my self-esteem because I really had no self-confidence whatsoever. What Randy has done is to make me feel special to him," Fields says the following day.

The office reflects its occupant. The desk is carved oak, an antique. Nearby is an armoire in the same style, a personal computer, a white love seat and two matching chairs, two bouquets of fresh flowers, a large basket of dried flowers and a few bowls of candy that she guarantees will be gone by the end of the day. On the walls are framed photos and mementos and several portraits of her three daughters (Jessica, 8; Janessa, 6, and Jennifer, 3) and their artwork, also framed. A hand-stitched pillow with the company's motto--"Good enough never is"--sits on the love seat.

"We've got some success stories here," Fields says, continuing to tap out phone numbers while looking at the sales figures. The company's new computer system (software designed by Randy, her husband, the chairman of the board and the chief financial officer), links her with all the stores and regional managers, calculates hourly sales goals and compares them with sales the same day a year ago. Her new phone system allows employees to relay urgent and not-so-urgent messages (about 100 per day) that she can tap into whenever she wants. "You can't stop listening to people that work and support you," she says. "I want the people in this organization to be happy."

Fields' phone conversations with her employees start out in personal territory and rapidly quickly segue into business.

"Hello, Mitch! Good morning! It's your birthday? (She sings an off-key "Happy Birthday to You.") You were No. 1 for yesterday! How's Pat doing? Is everything OK from surgery? Good. Now, your one store is down 56%; that's your new store. You've got to figure out how much you're missing your sales target. You've got to find out the reason behind it. . . . Now, your new manager needs to come to work in a tie. He's got a terrific personality and he's very enthusiastic; give him six months and he'll be great . . . . Now, what other little mountains can I move for you?"

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