Vivian Greene jauntily walks into an office and drops a beige teddy bear on the desk. The curly-haired bear is wearing a black lace teddy and carrying a red satin heart. "It's a Let's Have An Affair Bear", Greene laughs. "Want her? Or a Kiss?"
The bear - not to mention thousands of Kisses greeting cards, hundreds of nighties, scores of dolls and countless comic strips - is one of Greene's creations. Her products all emerge from her insight and intuition: the embodiments of charming, childlike cartoon characters.
She's a business dynamo who bases her economic practices on emotion, something the Harvard School of Business would scorn. Greene, 37, initially became known as the creator of greeting cards bearing chubby, loving children and touching, wry slogans. The youngest and first female card manufacturer in the US at age 21, Greene made her first million by age 26. Her success began with the Kisses characters who appeared on her greeting cards and in her comic strip.
The tousled toddlers are drawn without eyes because, Greene reveals, "All that is real is seen with the heart..." and that's how she does business.
Greene is a sought-after corporate
consultant as well as the owner of four Kisses affiliate companies—a
manufacturing plant, Kisses syndicator, an advertising/endorsement agency, and a
retail franchise chain. Her practical, professional achievements are based as
much upon love as logic, upon emotion as economics. Imagine a fortune and a
bottom-line business reputation founded on whimsical greeting cards.
"I could love you forever... but after
that you're on your own!" teases one Kisses card depicting two kids dressed up
as bride and groom. Another one, slightly more naughty from Greene's Juvenile
Delinquent line shows a cherubic innocent remembering, "I left my panties ar
Greene's product lines, including the
newest additions Angelwishes and Be Cuz Bears crop up on stationary, key chains,
folders, lunch buckets, bikinis and even on T-shirts for the Rain Festival in
Seattle where Greene spent her childhood.
The angel dust messages of Greene's
cards were born from the gristmill of her life. Raised in a lower-middle-class
home, swimming in cross-cultural currents between her black and white neighbors
Greene was surrounded by opportunities for self-reliance and imaginative
resourcefulness. Thus she created her special friends, the fantasy characters
who are her stock in trade today.
Her mother, separated from her father
before Greene was born, had relinquished her career as an artist to become a
sales clerk. Greene swore she'd live a more enterprising life. At age 12 she
began to work after school. Eventually she started the Seattle Times' youth page
and gradually assembled her portfolio.
At 17, she enrolled in the University
of Washington. She finished her degree early, but she never made it to
graduation ceremonies. A month or so before commencement, she saw Midnight
Cowboy, and two weeks later caught a plane to Miami. "It was one of the most
inspired moves I ever made."
After a stint on a local paper in
suburban Coral Gables, Greene sold her first comic, the Kisses panels, to a New
York syndicate (she made the connection by ghostwriting for one of their
columnists). The sale proved to be a false start on the road to success. The
syndicate went out of business just weeks before Kisses was scheduled for
Undaunted, Greene introduced her
character greeting cards at a New York trade show. Her 24 designs generated
$12,000 in orders. With $700 in her pocket and $12,000 in paper promises, Greene
returned to Miami. She found an attorney, an accountant and a printer who would
invest their skills in her future and launched her business from her apartment.
Two Miami Dolphins lived in her building, and the whole team pitched in to help
box and haul her first shipments of cards.
In 1972, the first year she took her
cards to trade shows around the country, she generated $300,000 in orders.
By 1975, she had a warehouse, 21
employees, 80 salespeople and her first magazine cover stories. She was cited as
a self-made millionaire in The Miami Herald's Tropic Sunday supplement and as an
unknown millionaire in US News and World Report.
That year, Kisses finally made
syndication in a deal with National Newspaper Syndicate that lasted until the
syndicate was purchased by United Feature Syndicate in 1979. Greene declined
United's contract due to unsettled copyright agreements, but people still write
her asking when Kisses will return to the comic pages. "If the newspapers
respond to public demand, it'll be back," Greene reassures us.
Kisses did very well without the funny
pages, thank you. Kisses is syndicated now only abroad in 22 languages, and it
thrives in the US on cards and some 65 additional licensed items.
Greene stepped out of manufacturing in
1983, when she affiliated with Mark I, a Chicago greeting card company, with
projected royalties of $250,000 a year. Mark I filed bankruptcy in 1985 and, a
year later, Greene became a manufacturer again.
Her personal approach and devotion to
simple principles - light-heartedness, integrity, generosity, warmth - make for
successful, if offbeat, business relationships.
In 1980, Greene applied to Miami's
Biscayne Federal Bank for a $200,000 loan to buy a house. Bank officials assured
her it was a cinch, but required her financial statements. Greene asked the bank
to approve the loan based on her sterling integrity and platinum credit. "That's
like a man who won't love you unless you undress", she explains. Although bank
officials were reluctant, Greene prevailed, supported by advice from an art
appraiser who valued the licensing life-span of just one of her card images at
But value beyond money led to her
newest venture. In 1981, at age 32, Greene became a foster parent, a $22-a-month
sponsor of a third world child. By age 33—having asked her friends to sponsor
their own foster kids for her birthday—she had six foster children. Now, she's
embarked on an innovative program that will benefit the overall Foster Parents
Greetings cards on sale must be
inventoried, store by store, week by week. Instead of paying store clerks to
count her Kisses cards, Greene is rewarding Foster Parent Plan volunteers. For
each month that a volunteer counts cards, Greene's company will sponsor a child
in the volunteer's name. This program is being launched in June in New York,
Boston and Miami and represents both a different approach to business and a
unique motivation for volunteerism.
"The volunteers will feel a real
commitment to the mission," Greene explains. "They'll know that because of their
input, a child will eat. The foster children and their families will have more
opportunities, and the volunteers can contribute time instead of money."
Buyers of Kisses cards become involved
as well, because the back of every 1987-edition card reads, "Thank you for
sharing Kisses—and contributing to the support of a third world foster child."
Greene's friend Woody Allen quips, "Being a Foster Parent is fun. You get
darling letters from wonderful, needy kids that you're helping and they live in
remote places so you never have to lend them the car."
Greene's other new venture is
chocolate-coated. Nestles chocolate, in fact. Sometime next year, perhaps by
Valentine's Day, Nestles will launch "Divine Chocolates". Each high quality
candy bar will come with a collectible Angelwishes decal designed by Greene.
Nestles vice president Allen J. Berger describes Greene as "The most unusual,
but by far the best business woman I have ever met." Why unusual? Perhaps
because she requested that he read
The Little Prince before she'd
seal the deal with Nestles. "The book describes what's real, what's a genuine
'matter of circumstance,' Greene smiles. "After all, we produce most effectively
with others who share the same purpose?"
What's next for Greene? What matters
of circumstance? A musical television feature is pending. It will be called
Rotunda Luvs Robert Redford, based on her character Rotunda and co-produced by
double Emmy winner Jay Poyner. Lavish retail outlets for her Kisses line are
scheduled to open first in Miami, Beverly Hills and New York, and later in
Geneva, Paris, Cannes, Milan and Tokyo. "We do more abroad than we do in the
U.S. with products other than cards," Greene explains.
Not all her travel is
business-related. Every now and then it's just time for R & R. At least once a
year, Vivian Greene heads for the airport with only a toothbrush, passport,
bikini and coat. And why not? Kisses, angels and teddy bears are welcome
Story by Erica M.
Rauszin, editor, Miami / South Florida Magazine. Released with permission.