.Reinventing Retirement: Gymboree founder Joan Barnes

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Joan Barnes founded Gymboree in 1976 with only $3,000 and grew it into one of the world’s most recognizable brands for parents and children.

What do you do?

Well, since I’m reinventing retirement, I just get to live in the moment…I still am and always will be a mom (two awesome adult daughters raised in Mill Valley) and three grandchildren: a teen and two newly minted adults, ages 21 and 22.

Where do you live?

I live one mile from downtown Mill Valley, up Blithedale Canyon, with a drop-dead view of our magic sleeping “Lady Mount Tam.” I’ve lived in Mill Valley for 50 years in six different homes.

How long have you lived in Marin?

Since 1973, just after giving birth to my eldest daughter and having moved across the country in a VW Bus, cliché of the times.

Where can we find you when you’re not at work?

Yoga at The Studio on East Blithedale, hiking on our glorious Mount Tam, socializing with friends of all ages and mentoring young women entrepreneurs.

If you had to convince someone how awesome Marin is, where would you take them? First I would be sure I know what gives them heart and meaning, then tour them right to the innumerable places that would blow them away!

What’s one thing Marin is missing?

Diversity….Ah yes, my love/hate relationship with Marin has only one “disappointment.”

What’s one bit of advice you’d share with your fellow Marinites?

I’d likely wait to hear and listen about what’s of concern for them, before offering up unsolicited advice. I am prone to saying, “Take what you like and leave the rest.”

If you could ask anyone to join you at dinner, who would you invite?

In just Marin, and living, would be Anne Lamott, Isabel Allende, Francis McDormand, Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi and one special deceased lady, my spiritual teacher, Angeles Arrien.

What’s some advice you wish you knew 20 years ago?

A tough one. I probably would not have believed any good advice anyway! I believe we learn by the choices we make, and therefore, everything that’s happened, I cherish…..even the roughest patches. For sure, in hindsight.

What’s something that 20 years from now will seem cringeworthy?

Hoping not true, but AI. What will happen to all human creativity?

Big question. What’s one thing you’d do to change the world?

Treat people with respect, compassion and kindness, and continue to be charitable in spirit and with financial resources.

Keep up with Barnes at @joanbarnes1 on Instagram.

Nish Nadaraja is a dad to one teenager and will be a father again in October!


  1. You can tell Joan has learned much through her own experience and by listening intensely to those who seek her counsel.

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