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William-Sonoma's Lester, 75

Retail Editor 5 -- Home Textiles Today, November 16, 2010

San Francisco - Williams-Sonoma chairman emeritus Howard Lester, who took a small local gourmet cookware store and built it into the biggest lifestyle home furnishings operation in the country, died yesterday at his home in Indian Wells, Calif., from cancer. He was 75.

Lester retired as ceo after a 32-year career this past May.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Howard Lester," said Laura Alber, who succeeded him. "Howard was a pioneer in retail and an incredible leader who served as a friend and mentor to many and he will be dearly missed."

Williams-Sonoma founder and director emeritus, Chuck Williams described Lester as "a shopkeeper at heart. More importantly he has been my friend for over thirty years, and I will miss him."

Lester became a retailer, but that's not where his career started. Through the 1960s and early 1970s, he created several of his own companies, primarily related to the computer and software business.

All that changed in 1978 when he met Williams, who was running a small chain of gourmet cookware stores in the San Francisco area. He bought into the business and immediately began to use his technical knowledge to build the company. Someone who interviewed him once said that Lester was the only retailer he ever met who used the word algorithm...and knew what it meant.

Williams-Sonoma stores soon began to appear in ever-growing numbers, followed by a direct business, first in print and later online. He took the company public in 1983 and during his tenure, Williams-Sonoma grew to more than 600 retail stores, seven direct mail catalogs and six online retail websites. He bought Pottery Barn from The Gap and eventually built the retail portfolio to include Williams-Sonoma Home, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, PBteen and West Elm.

He is survived by his wife Mary; his children: Kirk and his wife Sheryl; Kathryn Lindlan and her husband Tim; and Kristen Rio and her husband Steve; his five grandchildren: Claire, Charles, and Charlotte Lester, Luke and Sarah Lindlan and his niece, Elizabeth Lester Hartmann.

Funeral and Mass will take place Nov. 21 at 2 p.m. at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, 650 Parker Street, San Francisco.

Mass will be followed by a reception at Delancey Street, 600 Embarcadero St., San Francisco.
In lieu of flowers the family has asked that donations may be made to:
MD Anderson Cancer Center
www.mdanderson.org/how-you-can-help/make-a-donation/index.html
UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
www.cancer.ucsf.edu/howtohelp/
Delancey Street Foundation
www.delanceystreetfoundation.org
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
www.stjude.org/waystohelp

 

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