Building a business is something akin to raising children. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, patience and a strong sense of humor. You do your best, hope for the best, and pray that you’re building a solid foundation for the future. Someone who understands this connection between parenting and business is St. Croix Founder Bernhard Brenner.
Bernhard and Colleen Brenner have six children: Hans, Barbara, Suzan, Andrew, and twins Heidi and Kristie. The Brenner kids spent their childhoods in Winona, MN, an idyllic corner of southeastern Minnesota. They grew as the St. Croix brand and business grew. Today, the family has expanded to thirteen, including spouses and grandchildren. As we celebrate this Father’s Day, we asked Mr. Brenner’s children to share some of the advice they’ve received from their father over the years.
As you may expect from the person who seeks perfection in the product he produces, Mr. Brenner provided a healthy dose of parental advice regarding “doing your best”. Heidi humorously recalled that her Father would say to her: “Are you watching Three’s Company again? You can’t learn anything from that show. Read a book.” Andrew, Heidi and Kristie also shared a few gems they heard their father say more than once on this topic of excellence:
“Do it right the first time.”
“Work hard and smart”
“Always do the right thing.”
“Be honest and be fair.”
“The world is your oyster.”
“Be the best at whatever you do.”
“Your work will get you noticed.”
“Get an education.”
“Don’t be a follower.”
Positivity and Patriotism
It’s hard to grow a successful business if you don’t have a positive outlook. Mr. Brenner, having made America his adopted country, poured that same general positivity into his outlook for the country. The positivity and patriotism expressed in business was also found in his parenting advice:
“America is the best country.”
“There is so much opportunity these days.”
“The most important thing in this world is life, then freedom. We live in the greatest country in the world.”
Andrew recalled his Father saying “Isn’t that nice?” when commenting on a particularly steamy 95-degree summer day with high humidity—while they were out in the hot sun. Heidi remembered something similar, sharing that her father said many times: “Don’t complain about the weather.” Living through the hardships of WWII in Stuttgart, Germany gave Mr. Brenner a unique perspective on what to be grateful for and what was worth complaining about. Finding the positive in any situation was a common occurrence. Kristie echoed this sentiment, and shared that her Father always embodied a spirit of gratitude. In fact, “Kids, we have a lot to be thankful for” was often heard.
Suzan also shared a memory that really stuck with her. She shared that as a child she often worried about many things. “I was having anxiety about figuring out how I was going to pay my own way as an adult … and how I would be able to have enough money for candy. You see, I was only 8 years old. My Dad told me that I can be whatever I want to be when I grow up. He meant it. I could feel it. He never once demanded or told me what job, coursework or career to pursue.”
Faith and Family
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the people you work with day in and day out become a second family of sorts. Mr. Brenner has often been quoted saying that the success of the business is due to the hard work of the artisans that create the handmade clothing. In fact, he chose to build his fledgling business in southeastern Minnesota because of the strong work ethic he observed from the locals. This “family” has become the cornerstone of the St. Croix legacy, and he supports it and reveres it.
The wisdom shared with his kids about faith and family express that same support and reverence:
“God, family, then work are the top 3 priorities, in that order.”
“Without faith in God, we don’t have much.”
“Family is the most important thing.”
“The kids and grandchildren are the highlight of our lives.”
Kristie shared another perspective on the support she’s been given from her father. “Since my early 20’s, when I started to actually listen to him, my dad has given me a tremendous amount of advice, ranging from career choices to house remodeling to mountaineering and travel destinations.” Kristie took some of that advice, following in her Father’s footsteps and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro a few years ago. She continued: “He is a teacher at heart and, in my opinion, there isn’t anything he can’t fix or make better for someone.”
Making things better for people has been a constant part of the St. Croix business as well as a family motto. The St. Croix Foundation has been a source of giving in the local community for many years, with the motto of helping those that “cannot otherwise help themselves.” No doubt the spirit of giving back was well documented in thoughtful parenting advice. Andrew recalls asking his father why he never wanted to have his name on a plaque commemorating his philanthropy. Mr. Brenner answered, “If there’s a plaque, well then I really didn’t do it just to donate to others.” Both Bernhard and Colleen often encouraged their children to reach out and help others however they could. Mr. Brenner has such a strong desire to give to those in need—feeling that it has always been his duty and now also his privilege.
“The only thing more fun than making money, is giving it away.”
“It is our duty, in life, to help those who cannot help themselves … due to no fault of their own.”
“The physically and mentally handicapped and veterans are the ones we need to take care of.”
It seems likely that someone who has been in the men’s fashion industry for over 55 years would have a perspective and recommendations on clothing. With his discerning eye and steadfast commitment to quality and excellence, Mr. Brenner has sought to create the finest garments in the world, regardless of the effort. It’s been an ongoing search for perfection, coupled with a keen eye for design. You wonder then, what would the fashion advice to his children sound like?
“Clothes make the man!”
“Dress better than the next guy.”
“Eat for yourself. Dress for others.”
Everyone Makes Mistakes
It would be a miraculous feat if a business never made a mis-step or error. But it’s not really possible, given that everyone is human, and as such, we make mistakes. Fortunately, having someone at the helm of the company and a family who has a broad and far reaching outlook means that mistakes are simply that, mistakes.
Kristie recalls one of the best personal bits of advice given to her by her father, while she was struggling with a mistake she’d made: “Oh little honey, we all make mistakes, we are not judged for that, rather we are judged by how we recover from our mistakes.”
Sage advice indeed.
Happy Father’s Day to all the great Dads out there juggling their work life and family life, and finding a way to make it all work. A special thank you to the Brenner children for sharing these remembrances of the wonderful advice given to them by their father! We’re also thankful for the wisdom imparted over the years by our Founder, Mr. Brenner—as we continue to strive for the lofty goals he created as the foundation of this business.