Insider Industry Interview: SFSU Alumni, Founder, Owner and CEO of bebe Stores, Inc. Manny Mashouf

Hardworking and dedicated is inevitable when describing Manny Mashouf, who is founder, owner, and CEO of bebe stores, Incorporated. At an early age, Mashouf knew that the road to success required hard work and dedication, and no one or nothing was going to stop him from achieving success.

Settling in America from Iran as a teen, he arrived in Chicago, and later as an adult he relocated to San Francisco, where he would go on to attend San Francisco State University. As a student, Mashouf was very hardworking and dedicated to his studies, even while working full time and supporting his family. If he was not attending class or at work, he could always be found at the library, hard at work. Failure was never an option. In 1966, his hard work and dedication paid of, as Mashouf graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in Political Science.

Growing up, he always knew that he wanted to be a successful businessman, but he did not necessarily know how, but always knew that he was an entrepreneur. After graduating from San Francisco State University, he went on to work at Winterland, and within six months of his employment, he earned the position of manager. While working at Winterland, he saved $2500, and opened a very successful steakhouse on the corner of Geary Street right in the heart of San Francisco. Even with the success of his steakhouse, he always knew that fashion was truly his passion.

One day in 1971, he stumbled upon a store space on Post Street, which led to the opening of Mashouf’s first women’s boutique called Caspian Corner. He always knew that running a women’s boutique was something he wanted to do. Fashion has always been a part and will always remain a part of Mashouf’s life. Even though, he was very busy with school, work and supporting his family, he always managed to look immaculate no matter the occasion.

In 1976, after a couple of years of running Caspian Corner, Mashouf moved on to start his first company, bebe stores, Incorporated, and opened his first store in San Francisco. The name “bebe”, stems from the philosophy “to be or not to be”, which described the feeling of the 1970’s. He had a vision for bebe at a time when the women’s wear market only consisted of junior, bridge, and missy. He wanted bebe to represent stylish women with unique and inspiring fashions, and an unmistakable hint of sensuality. Sticking to his concept, bebe, gained early success and remains a huge success to this day.

Starting a successful company like bebe, must have challenges at times, so what was Mashouf’s biggest motivator that kept him going? Confidence is key; he never lacked confidence; he always believed that he could do anything he set his mind to. He also added that growing up, he was always inspired by his father’s best friend, who always seemed to master everything, and inspired him to also want to master something.

After thirty-four years of continued success at bebe, does retirement ever come to mind? Although he has considered retiring a few times, he cannot think of anything he would love to do more than get up and go to work everyday. He expressed that retirement seems to be for people who don’t love their job…who feel that they have done their duty as a citizen. But he wonders why he would ever leave something he loves. He compared it to being married. He said that if you have love someone for 20 years, is there a day you are going to retire from loving them? No. You are always going to love them if it’s the love of your life.

In 2005, he gave an Alum recognition speech, and his first commandment is said, “When choosing a career, make sure you love it so much that you never, ever think about retirement.”  He stresses that students should choose a career that you love, and to pursue a career that you are passionate about.

As a company, bebe always looks for ways to innovate itself, which has been key in staying current in fashion and today’s market. Recently, bebe made efforts to innovate themselves as a company by changing bebeSPORT, which is bebe’s active wear line, to PH8. Mashouf explained that they are taking a new approach with a fresh start. The new store aims to embody the lifestyle of looking good and being healthy. There will be an energetic fusion in every garment, and they aim for the wearer to easily go from the gym to going about their day, looking good in both environments.  The bebe company also consists of brands 2b and bebe accessories, and currently operates 312 stores in both the United States and internationally.

Although Mashouf is very busy with his occupation as CEO of bebe stores, Inc., he always manages to donate time to give back to the community of San Francisco State University. He is a current member of the College of Business Advisory Board, and has provided a great amount of funds to hire professors in the College of Business. On May 28, 2005, Mashouf gave the largest gift to San Francisco State University in the university’s history by donating $10 million to help fund the new Performing and Electronic Media Arts building for the SFSU College of Creative Arts. Mashouf’s commitment to the College of Creative Arts is truly an inspiration to the San Francisco State community.

Mashouf also graced SFSU students and aspiring entrepreneurs with some inspiration to keep in mind when embarking on one’s journey to success. He gave us three qualities that are needed to become a successful entrepreneur. He said, “Do it differently; work hard with a specific vision; be relentless.” He also graced us with these words of encouragement to live by, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”- Einstein.

Manny Mashouf, is truly an inspiration to us all here at San Francisco State University, and looking forward to taking his inspiration to make our own success stories.

Interviewed by Maricela Torres and Rachel Gellerman

Article by Jamonique Fletcher