museums&MORE Winter 2016
Gerry Ward

Founder Gerry Ward
Wildlife Artists Inc.
Bethel, Connecticut

How many people in the plush toy industry were once an NBA first-round draft pick selection? Gerry Ward was back in 1963. Ward, who grew up in the Bronx, attended Boston College before playing four seasons for four different NBA teams in the 1960s. His former teammates include Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Wilt Chamberlain. Ward eventually became a wildlife photographer and started Wildlife Artists well after his playing days were over.

MM: Why did you start Wildlife Artists?

GW: Forty years ago, I was planning management consultant for many of the major (zoo retail stores) at one time or another. I saw a need in retail shops, as a consultant, to upgrade them. People weren’t concerned with authenticity or realism. So I figured, as a wildlife photographer, maybe I could do better.

MM: How did you go about doing that?

GW: I’m a serious wildlife photographer, and I believe people appreciate knowing more about animals and knowing what animals look like. I’ve continued to push that philosophy myself, and now my daughter (Caroline), into selling wildlife products. … We’re firm believers that people come to zoos to see animals and they want replication of what animals look like.

MM: How has the company evolved over the years?

GW: It originated with myself and some of America’s great wildlife artists. We started to put their artwork on little toys and knickknacks. … It grew from that into more toys and into plush toys. We continued that same philosophy today, but we went away from souvenirs because we wanted to concentrate on one thing and that was plush.

MM: How does it feel to have your daughter, Caroline Ward, in a leadership role?

GW: I think it’s wonderful. She and our other children grew up on our business since they were in grammar school. Any spending money they wanted, they had to earn. We had a way for them to make it and that was by working at the company. Through high school and even more so through college, when they came home for the summer they worked for us. We gave them more responsibility. … Between their freshman and sophomore years in college, they would go to Asia with me. Then between their junior and senior years, they’d go by themselves. They learned real fast about dealing overseas and international business. They all worked in our warehouse at some point. (One of Ward’s sons, James, has gone on to run a retail consulting company started by the family.)

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