Lester, William Howard | 2001
- Birth and Death Year | 1935 - 2011
- Induction Year | 2001
- Profession | Entrepreneur
- Oklahoma Connection | Lester was born in Durant, Oklahoma.
- Hometown | Durant
When William Lester bought Williams-Sonoma in 1978, the company was making $4 million in sales and a small catalogue business. Twenty years later, it had become the largest upscale home retail and mail order concept in the U.S. with annual sales of over $1.8 billion.
“It's simple; there's a certain style about it. I think our store's about a lot more than cooking, as well. It's an aspirational store, if you will, with a certain look and a certain feel. We've done a lot with color and style in the kitchen. How else would we have sold all those toasters for $300 apiece? It certainly wasn't just about toasting bread.” - Willliam Howard Lester, 2004
Oklahoma native and Altus High School graduate William Howard Lester attended the University of Oklahoma and served in the U.S. Army for two years. He and a friend purchased Williams-Sonoma, a cookware store founded by Chuck Williams in 1956 in downtown Sonoma, California, in 1978 and assumed the role of president and CEO. In 1982 the company launched Gardeners Eden—a catalog offering plants, tools, and garden related accessories – and was sold in 1999. In 1983 Lester took the company public on the stock exchange and began building more stores and expanding the catalog business while a new, 450,000 square foot distribution center was opened in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1984. The company bought Pottery Barn in 1986 and has included many Hold Everything stores and outlet stores across the country. Customer care centers were opened in the mid-1990s, including one in Oklahoma City in 1998, and opened stores in Canada in 2001. With Lester’s retirement that same year, he remained Chairman of the Board and served on many community boards including Harold’s Stores, Inc.; Boy Scouts of America, San Francisco Chapter; and Randolph Makin Women’s College (now Randolph College). He also supported OU’s golf course, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the First Tee Organization for Inner-City Youth.