Thomas George "Tom" Stemberg (January 18, 1949 – October 23, 2015) was an American businessman, investor, and philanthropist. He was a pioneer of the office supplies superstore industry, most notably for founding office supply retail chain Staples Inc. with Leo Kahn.
Hailed as a retail pioneer and innovator, he developed and launched the first line of generic food sold in the US and revolutionized the office supply business by eliminating wholesalers and selling directly to customers through his warehouse-like superstores. He adapted a simple objective that later became the foundation of Staples Inc. He always emphasized that his "priority is saving people money."
Early Life and Education
Stemberg was born on January 18, 1949 in Orange, New Jersey, the son of immigrants from Vienna, Austria, Erika (Ratzer) and Oscar Michael Stemberg. His father was a lawyer who became a restaurateur. His father was Jewish and his mother was Catholic.
When Stemberg was 13, his father died and he moved with his mother to Vienna. He was a student at the American International School from 1962 to 1967. He later returned to the United States to attend Harvard College, graduating in 1971 with a B.S. in Physical Science. At Harvard College, he headed on managerial roles at Harvard Student Agencies, a hands-on organization of campus businesses, and the Harvard Independent, a newly established student newspaper. In 1973, Stemberg graduated from the Harvard Business School receiving his M.B.A. as a George F. Baker Scholar.
He started his career with the Jewel Company's Star Markets where he became the vice president for the company's sales and merchandising division. During his career at Jewel, he was then introduced with the first line of generic foods sold in the United States. Concurrently, he learned the concept of warehouse specials. In 1982, Stemberg served as the president of the Edwards-Finast division and then established the Edwards Food Warehouse chain. It was also during this time, he began developing the concept of an office superstore, where a chain of discount stores that would serve businesses fewer than 100 employees by providing a broad selection of products sold at an average of 50 percent below the list purchase price, also known as no frills, deep discount marketing retailing. Stemberg previously had worked in the grocery store business at Star Markets. Stemberg noticed many retailers on Main Street selling ball point pens at $2 – $3 with a wholesale cost of just 30 cents and determined that the business could be profitable and reduce customer costs.
In 1986, Stemberg started Staples with backing from private equity firms, including Hambro International Ventures, Harvard Management, Bessemer Ventures, Adler & Company, and Bain Capital; Bain co-founder Mitt Romney served on the company's board of directors for the next 15 years. By 1999, Staples had worldwide sales of over US$7 billion, with more than one thousand superstores, mail order catalogs, e-commerce outlets, and a contract business.
Stemberg, a political supporter of Mitt Romney since Romney ran for the U.S. Senate in 1994, spoke on Romney's behalf at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Stemberg encouraged Romney to make healthcare more accessible, which led Romney to reform healthcare in the commonwealth.
Stemberg was also a philanthropist in areas pertaining to education.
In 2012, Stemberg was involved in a legal dispute with his first wife, Maureen Sullivan; and Romney who was a key witness in his troubled divorce. Romney was allegedly heavily involved in this very messy and long drawn-out divorce, which was according to media bitter and ugly.