Thomas G. Stemberg
“Pioneering the deep discount office supply industry”
Thomas Stemberg is founder, chairman of the board, and chief executive officer, Staples, Inc., pioneer of the office superstore industry with more than 620 office products superstores throughout North America, Germany, and the UK. Staples is one of the fastest growing specialty retailers in North America. In 1995 the company became the sixth publicly traded US company to reach $3 billion in annual sales in less than ten years.
Staples employs more than 25,000 associates, both full and part time. For fiscal year 1996, Staples reported sales of $4.0 billion. Tom Stemberg has a formula for retail success: devote your career to developing and implementing bold new ways for customers to save money.
Stemberg, fresh out of Harvard College (’71) and Harvard Business School (as a George F. Baker Scholar, ’73), joined Jewel Companies’ corporate training program in 1973. He trained in every department of Jewel’s Star Markets stores, moved to headquarters, and rose to vice president of sales and merchandising in 1980.
At Star Market, Stemberg developed and launched the first line of generic, or unbranded, foods to be sold in the US. While most in the food industry dismissed the price-cutting idea as too radical, the overwhelming consumer response gained Star national headlines. Star’s success with that program spawned a national trend; generics are now offered by every major supermarket chain in the country. By 1982, Star Markets’ sales ranking in the competitive Boston market had risen from fourth place to a dead heat (with Leo Kahn’s Purity Supreme chain) for first.
That year, Stemberg moved on to Connecticut-based First National Supermarkets as senior vice president of sales and merchandising. In 1983, he was named president of its Edwards-Finast division. He led the company out of the doldrums, in part by opening a network of high-volume megastores under the Edwards Food Warehouse banner. The Edwards formula was simple: cut costs, buy in volume, and slash selling prices.
That’s the formula that Stemberg put to work in developing Staples, the Office Superstore, and in pioneering the deep discount office supply industry. With the backing of former supermarket adversary Leo Kahn, he founded Staples, Inc. in 1985, and opened its first store in May, 1986.
Stemberg serves as a director of PETsMART, another dynamic deep-discount retailer, and Duane Reade Drug Stores. He maintains close ties to his alma mater, Harvard; his many associations there include the post of co-chairman of Friends of Harvard Basketball. He serves on the Visiting Committee of Harvard Business School; the board of Overseers of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and the Executive Council of the Archdiocese of Boston Inner City Scholarship Fund. Stemberg received the 1996 Torch of Liberty Award from the Anti-Defamation League.