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Williams-Sonoma’s Lester to Retire

Williams-Sonoma Inc. announced last month that longtime president and ceo Howard Lester will retire in May when the 2010 annual shareholders’ meeting is scheduled.

He will, however, continue to assist the company in a consulting and advisory role through December 2012 and hold the title of chairman emeritus.

“It has been an extraordinary privilege to lead this wonderful company for the past 31 years but an even greater privilege to watch the passion of our 27,000 associates delight our customers every day and together take our vision to a place that we could have only dreamed,” Lester said. “I continue to be amazed by the creativity and entrepreneurship that lives within our culture.”

He added that his retirement plans are the “culmination of the long-term succession plan we set in motion upon my reappointment as ceo in July 2006.”

The board intends to appoint Laura Alber, currently president of the company, to the ceo post and nominate her to the board of directors.

“Howard has been an outstanding mentor, and he is retiring at a time when the foundation of the company has never been stronger,” Alber said. “We are confident in our direction and, together with the leadership team, ready to execute against those strategies that will grow and improve our businesses, deliver great products and services to our customers, and enhance shareholder value.”

Lester has led the company since 1978 when he purchased it from its founder, Chuck Williams. At that time, Williams-Sonoma operated four stores and a small catalog, which together generated $4 million in revenue. The company has since grown to six nameplate multi-channel specialty retailers with six e-commerce websites, seven catalogs, and more than 600 stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, and locations soon to open in the Middle East.

Alber joined Williams-Sonoma in 1995 and climbed the ranks until 2006 when she was appointed to president. Under her leadership, the company expanded its brand offerings to include Pottery Barn Kids, Pottery Barn Bed + Bath, and PBteen. She is also credited with playing an instrumental role in the company’s global supply chain, distribution, and logistics strategies.

Also in May, Williams-Sonoma’s board intends to appoint Adrian Bellamy, the current lead independent director, as its non-executive chairman upon his re-election at the annual shareholders’ meeting. Bellamy joined the board in 1997. He has extensive experience in retail as both an executive and as a board member, having served as chairman and ceo of DFS Group Ltd. for 12 years and also on the boards of Gucci Group N.V. and The Body Shop.

Currently, Bellamy also serves as a director of Gap Inc. and is chairman and director of Reckitt Benckiser plc.

Other actions the board has planned for the annual meeting include: the re-nomination of evp and chief marketing officer Pat Connolly, who has served as a director since 1983; and the nomination of Sharon McCollam, who has been a strategic and financial leader of the company since 2000 and has served as evp and coo since 2006.

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