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Leo Kahn

Co-founder of Staples Inc.

As an airforce navigator during World War II, Leo Kahn kept a sharp eye on the target. Today at age 80, he continues—with great vigor—to track and capture new markets.

Last fall he opened the Boston region’s largest natural-foods supermarket. Nature’s Heartland in Bedford Mass., is bigger (at 41,000 square feet) with a more price conscious policy than its main competitor, Bread & Circus, owned by Whole Foods Market Inc. of Texas. The innovative store stocks a wide selection of natural and prepared foods. Hearth stone pizza, fresh sushi, and oven ready meals are served up daily for the health-sensitive take-out generation, an underserved $9.2 billion market that has doubled since 1990. Nature’s Heartland is Kahn’s second natural food venture. He was an investor in Fresh Fields Inc., which has 22 stores in Washington, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. In 1994 Kahn sold his stake in Fresh Fields.

Kahn says it’s easy to come up with new ideas. The challenge, he insists, is to make them work. After the War, he went into the retail grocery business and started what became Purity Supreme, Inc. The company operated with supermarkets, warehouse food and drug stores, and Mom and Pop convenience stores. In 1984 Purity, with annual sales of $800 million, was sold to Supermarkets General Corporation.

Later, Kahn applied the discount warehouse concept to selling paper clips and notepads. He is co-founder and member of the board of directors of Staples, Inc., a retail office supply chain, now publicly traded and worth billions. His retailing expertise is shared in the boardrooms of numerous companies including Health Development Corporation, a chain of exercise centers; Big V Supermarkets; Grossman’s, Inc.; High Road Bicycle Stores; and Cambridge Soundworks. Before acquiring the golden touch in retailing, Kahn spent time as a journalist. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia University’s School of Journalism; and was a beat reporter with the New Bedford Standard Times.

Part of Kahn’s success is his intuitive sense of news and market trends. His advice to entrepreneurs is to grow with the concept. Entrepreneurs need to know when to change and when to be true to their original principles. Master this concept, Kahn is convinced, and you too will soar.