Thomas Stemberg speaks at College
11.07.2008 —Staples founder shares business fundamentals and stories of innovation
LONGMEADOW, Mass.—Turning adversities into opportunities was the key message from Thomas G. Stemberg, founder of Staples, Inc., as he addressed more than 200 business professionals and Bay Path College students, alumni, and friends on November 5 during the sixth installment of the Innovative Thinking and Entrepreneurship Lecture Series at Bay Path. The annual lecture features successful and renowned business owners who provide insight on business practices in environments where innovation and entrepreneurship are crucial.
During the 45-minute lecture, Stemberg said entrepreneurs must learn three fundamentals of operating a successful business: how to hire people, how to educate people, and how to fire people. He stated the importance of hiring qualified candidates and educating employees about services and products, and when dismissing an employee, the employer must comment on the employee’s strengths rather than weaknesses. “It is best to leave a positive image of the company with that employee because you never know when you will need that person down the road either in your current business venture or future endeavors,” said Stemberg.
Stemberg shared stories from his business beginnings in the supermarket industry to the establishment of the office superstore, which he pioneered when he opened the first Staples store in 1986. As times changed in the supermarket industry, Stemberg sought opportunities to develop his own business—an office supply superstore, which would sell essential items from pens and paper to file folders and paper towels. Much like he did for the supermarket industry, Stemberg developed and implemented new ways for consumers to save money on products by cutting company costs and buying in volume, enabling Staples to slash prices for their customers. Today, Staples, Inc. is the country's largest operator of office supplies superstores, and has expanded its merchandise to include office furniture, computers, and copiers, among other items. Under Stemberg’s tenure as CEO, Staples grew to more than 1,700 stores and numerous delivery businesses throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia, becoming one of just seven companies in U.S. history to reach $3 billion in sales within 10 years. It is now an $18 billion Fortune 200 company.
Following his success with Staples, Stemberg joined Highland Capital Partners in 2005 as managing general partner to bring his entrepreneurial understanding and experience to assist in building successful enterprises. In 2007, he launched the $300 million Highland Consumer Fund to focus exclusively on consumer products, services, and retail investment opportunities, investing in such companies as Blue Tulip, Guitar Center, lululemon athletica and Pharmaca. Stemberg is also a member of the Board of Directors at CarMax and PetSmart and he has helped set up OLLY Shoes—an innovative children’s shoe retailer that uses a patented custom fitting process.
“It is important for you as entrepreneurs to be thoughtful and conservative, but at the same time, you must go with your gut feeling,” said Stemberg. “You need to have that healthy balance of focus on the business fundamentals and your vision and dream.”
For many of Bay Path’s Business Program undergraduates, Stemberg’s lecture was enlightening. Freshman and Longmeadow resident Lauren Berrouard said, “The Lecture Series is a great opportunity for business students to learn the secrets of successful entrepreneurs, and Mr. Stemberg’s advice is very applicable to the business world.”