Howard Lester, the former chairman and chief executive of US kitchenware chain Williams-Sonoma, has died at the age of 75.
Lester and a partner bought the company in 1978 from Chuck Williams, for $100,000. Williams had founded it in the 1950s to introduce up-market French kitchenware to US consumers, but while the business gained a cult following it failed to thrive.
At the time of the purchase, Williams-Sonoma operated just four stores with a combined annual turnover of $4m. Today, it has 600 outlets along with seven direct-mail catalogues, six retail websites and sales worth in excess of $3.4bn. The company went public in 1983.
Chuck Williams, now 95, was retained by the company he founded and today holds the title of director emeritus. Howard Lester, who had been suffering from cancer, retired from the company in May.
Reporting on his death, the Los Angeles Times says Lester was once asked whether Williams-Sonoma would ever run out of things to sell, to which his answer was no.
“People replace old things, and it’s amazing how you can sell food processors and KitchenAids in a dozen different colours and toasters in different colours,” he said. “I have great faith in the American consumer to continue to buy.”
Williams-Sonoma also operates stores under the Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids and West Elm names.