Tom Stemberg, Staples founder, dies at 66

Printed from:

BOSTON – Staples founder Tom Stemberg died Friday after a long battle with cancer. He was 66 years old and lived in the Chestnut Hill section of Brookline.

He had reportedly been diagnosed with cancer in 2013.

Thomas G. Stemberg, who had worked as an executive for supermarkets including Stop & Shop, came up with the idea for a “one-stop-shop” for office supplies while searching for a printer ribbon on a holiday weekend in the 1980s. He took his idea to Bain Capital, and found a sympathetic ear in Mitt Romney, the co-founder of the Boston-based private-equity firm.

Thomas Stemberg (Courtesy Highland Consumer Partners)

Thomas Stemberg (Courtesy Highland Consumer Partners)

With Romney’s backing and Bain Capital’s financial support, Stemberg opened his first Staples office superstore in 1986 in Boston’s Brighton section, with co-founder Leo Kahn. Three decades later, the Framingham-based company has a market value of more than $8.1 billion, operates in 48 states with more than 2,000 stores. Staples, which Stemberg left in 2005, employs more than 79,000 people.

“Tom was a great friend, mentor and colleague to many of us, and he will be greatly missed,” Ron Sargent, Staples chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. “Tom was a visionary who invented the office-products superstore and turned it into a global industry.

“He had great energy, determination, and an incredible passion for our business,” Sargent said.

Most recently, the former Fortune 500 corporate leader worked with Highland Capital Partners, an investment firm based in Cambridge that specializes in investing in young companies and helping them grow. Stemberg led the firm’s consumer fund, working with retail-oriented enterprises.

“Tom was a person of incredible intellect, limitless drive and work ethic, good humor and genuine warmth and generosity,” the fund said in a statement. “Tom’s professional accomplishments established his legacy and gained the respect of a global community. Equally important, his personal influence and impact on so many will stand as a lifelong accomplishment.”

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential nominee in 2012, frequently cited the success of Staples as an example of Bain Capital’s role in job creation. Romney also credited Stemberg for spurring the health care policy changes ushered in under his administration. The Massachusetts law served as a model for President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Stemberg leaves his wife, Katherine Chapman, six sons, three stepdaughters and three grandchildren.