Talking Leadership with Beloved Houston Philanthropist, ‘Mattress Mack’

You’re lucky in life if you get to know some people who make you a better person. The best part of my career is that I get many opportunities to build relationships with inspiring people who lift me higher.

One of those leaders is Jim McIngvale, known throughout Texas as “Mattress Mack.” Mack and his wife, Linda, started Gallery Furniture in Houston in 1981 with $5,000, a dream, and an extraordinary work ethic. Today, Gallery Furniture is the most profitable furniture store per square foot in the U.S. And Mack doesn’t forget the local community that helped him achieve his dream.

Mack made national news in August of 2017 when Hurricane Harvey brought 70 inches of rain to Southeast Texas. Mack opened his stores as shelters for hundreds of families who had been flooded out of their homes. When reporters asked him why he was so generous, Mack replied: “How can I not be? We’re Texans and we take care of each other.”

Mack is at it again this week as the people of Texas battle an historic cold and ice storm that’s knocked out power to millions across the state. Within hours of seeing the need, Mack rushed into action and opened his galleries for anyone who needs shelter. He delivers the message on Facebook and through local media. What he doesn’t say often say publicly is that he also pays for everything out of his pocket — clothes, warm meals, and any other materials that people need to take care of themselves and their families.

During my time with Mack, I helped him craft his story to share with a broader audience through TED talks and other platforms. I saw first-hand how beloved he is in the city of Houston. Everywhere we went, people would greet him with a smile or a hug and shout “Mattress Mack!”

We attended a banquet in his honor, one of many requests and awards he regularly receives. On the drive home after he had received a standing ovation at one ceremony, we talked about his deep catholic faith and his servant attitude toward leadership.

Mack then turned to him and gave me a lesson I’ll never forget. Mack said,

“It’s our obligation to take care of the last, least, and lost in our society.”

As a business leader, what are you doing to give back to your community and to make the world a better place? Mack told me that he has a simple criteria to judge a company’s impact. He asks, “Will the customer miss you?”

Thousands of Houston residents would miss Mack, but thankfully he’s still giving back to help others achieve their dreams, too.

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