Felix Robinson took time out of his busy schedule managing the University of Houston bookstores to reveal what it takes to support over 40,000 students at one of the busiest research universities in the nation. The irrepressible, affable and highly driven General Manager talks of the importance of building relationships, why mentoring young people is so important and how wrestling helped prepare him for work and life.
What was your first job?
I was a sales clerk for a grocery food chain and my job was to hang up all of the promotional signs throughout the store – window displays, signage in the food aisles – every week. I guess you could say I got my start in retail.
How do you describe your current role at Barnes & Noble College?
I would break this down into three roles: First, a relationship builder, because it’s critical to forge good relationships with people on campus, and that includes administration, students, faculty or campus organizations; second, a leader for my bookstore team to help develop their talents – whether they stay with you or not; and finally, delivering exceptional customer service to everyone that walks through our doors.
You are known throughout the company for your boundless energy and positive, outgoing personality (on the UH campus, you are known as the ‘Mayor’). How do you think these qualities have impacted how you perform your job?
Positive energy is contagious. If you can get everyone on the same team, you’ll achieve winning results. Not everything will be a home run, but you can always find something positive about every experience and every person. Ultimately, the goal is to be the best support for my campus.
You have successfully mentored many student booksellers to go on to have careers with Barnes & Noble College. Why do you think mentoring young people is so important?
It’s huge! Someone mentored me – so I feel it’s important to pay it forward to others. Brian Stark (Vice President, Stores for Barnes & Noble College) first hired me and told me, “you are representing the company – when people at this school think of Barnes & Noble College, the first person they think of will be you and your team.” So I make sure we are always professional — always positive — and have the best workers for my store and campus. Yes, I believe mentoring is huge.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
I love inspiring others, so I would be a coach or a motivational speaker. I’ve always challenged myself throughout my life. I was a state champion wrestler in high school and that taught me a lot about hard work, remaining focused and staying motivated. I think those same skills have carried over to what I do now.
You have worked for Barnes & Noble College for almost 18 years. What’s a common characteristic you find among Barnes & Noble College people?
People at Barnes & Noble College love what they do and are passionate about delivering a great experience for their customers. The campuses that hire us to manage their bookstores can be confident that they are hiring the best.
Favorite book or book you’re currently reading?
My favorite book is the The Super Supervisor by Mildred Ramsey. The most important message in the book is ‘the way you treat your people is always important and the way you make them feel can unlock their fullest potential.’
Digital or hard copy?
I like them both. I’ve always loved a hard copy in my hands, but it’s also great to store all of my books on a digital device as well. I often change up many of my hard copy books to digital — so I have them anywhere I go.
Most valuable thing you’ve learned at Barnes & Noble College?
Building a great team. I’ve learned that you can’t go it alone and building a really good team that has been trained well, is reliable and that you trust, is critical to your success. My team has a lot of fun, but they are also some of the hardest working people you will ever find.
Best day at Barnes & Noble College?
Every day is my best day! There will always be highs and lows throughout a career, but every day is a good day because I love coming to work. I get to manage one of the best teams at an outstanding university for an incredible company. It doesn’t get any better than that.