Published on: October 26, 2015by Kevin Coupe
The Saturday papers offered a sobering reminder of how fast things change, and how yesterday's disruptive influences can have trouble standing up to the challenges of new disruptions.
The actual story was about the passing of Thomas G. Stemberg, who co-founded Staples in 1986. According to the Boston Globe, Stemberg died at age 66, two years after being diagnosed with gastric cancer.
The Globe writes that Stemberg "came up with the idea for Staples while driving around in search of a printer ribbon on a Sunday afternoon during the Fourth of July weekend in 1985. He had just been fired as an executive at a supermarket company and needed the ribbon to finish a proposal for a new business. Most stores were closed and his struggle to find the right ribbon led him to an industry changing concept: the office superstore, a one-stop shop for business supplies.
"With the backing of Bain Capital and its cofounder Mitt Romney, the first Staples store opened in Brighton in 1986. Growing rapidly, Staples took the top spot on the Globe’s 1991 list of the 50 fastest-growing companies in the state, with a sales growth rate of 83 percent. Today the company is worth more than $8 billion."
That wasn't that long ago, and yet in some ways it is hard to remember a time when Staples didn't exist. But it also is important to keep in mind that these days, Staples' leadership is looking for ways to remain relevant in a vastly changed competitive climate. The company is pursuing a merger with Office Depot, which itself already has merged with OfficeMax. And Staples has been going through a re-engineering, trying to figure out how to become more of a technology-oriented business services company rather than just an office supplies superstore.
That doesn't diminish in any way Stemberg's insights or contribution. It is just that the world changes, and yesterday's innovation is ... well, just that. Yesterday's innovation. That in itself is an Eye-Opener.
One other note. I didn't know ... or at least did not remember ... that Stemberg's relationship with Romney that led to one particular piece of legislation.
The Globe writes that "Romney recalled that shortly after he was elected, Mr. Stemberg asked him why he ran for governor. Romney said he wanted to help people, and Mr. Stemberg replied that if he really wanted to help, he should give everyone access to health care, which Romney said he hadn’t really considered before. 'Without Tom pushing it, I don’t think we would have had Romneycare,' Romney said. 'Without Romneycare, I don’t think we would have Obamacare. So without Tom, a lot of people wouldn’t have health insurance'."
Consider that another Eye-Opener.
- KC's View: