17749 Wed, 01/27/2010 - 1:00pm
SAN FRANCISCO—Howard Lester, the long-time head of Williams-Sonoma who took a minor kitchenware store and built into the home industry’s largest lifestyle retailer, is retiring.
Lester will be replaced as CEO by his number two executive Laura Alber, the current president. Adrian Bellamy, currently the board’s lead independent director, will become non-executive chairman and Lester will become chairman emeritus through December 2012.
Lester has led Williams-Sonoma since 1978, when he purchased the company from founder Chuck Williams. Since then the retailer has grown from four stores, a catalog and $4 million in annual revenues to its current status with more than 600 stores through the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and (soon) the Middle East; six e-commerce Web sites; and seven catalogs. In addition to its namesake unit, it operates Pottery Barn, West Elm and Williams-Sonoma Home among other brands.
Alber joined the company in 1995 and was named president in 2006. Bellamy, former chairman and CEO of DFS Group, has also served on the boards of Gucci Group and The Body Shop. He currently serves as a director of Gap Inc., and is chairman and director of Reckitt Benckiser.
The announcement made Tuesday afternoon says the retirement will take effect at the company’s May 2010 annual shareholders’ meeting.