We mourn the passing of Samson B. Stern, our Founder, and father of current president Andy Stern. Sam was a giant in our industry. He loomed large in so many of the lives of the people in our company and in the community at large. Sam Stern was the quintessential “Greatest Generation” man. Self-made, he went off to war (enlisted), helped save the world, returned home, built a business, raised a family and never once complained or whined. He, as so many others of his generation, did what needed to be done.
Sam was born in 1917 and grew up in a small town in Maine called Biddeford. In 1917 there were still horse and buggies – and a few Ford model T’s – on the streets of Biddeford. There were no commercial airlines, few private phones, no television, the helicopter hadn’t yet been invented, no moon landings and obviously no TV, internet or any modern electronics. And around Biddeford there were still Civil War Vets and many who had lived through that war – including one of his teachers. His dad, Ben, had a series of small businesses and was a leader of Biddeford’s small Jewish Community. When Sam was 15 or 16 his father was elected to the Maine State House of representatives leaving Sam in charge of his window cleaning business. This meant Sam had to get up each morning – in the dead of a Maine winter – before school at 4 or 5 am – rouse the window cleaners – get then to their assignments with the proper equipment and after school pay the workers, pick-up the equipment and make sure the company was paid for its services. Is there any doubt as to why he turned out to be the can do entrepreneur he became?
After high school – in 1937 – seeing no opportunity in Maine and dreading another long winter he moved to Washington with $50 in his pocket – because his brother and cousin were here. He got his first job at the only Sears store in DC (on Bladensburg Road) selling home furniture. He liked selling but didn’t like selling home furniture. He soon found a job with an office furniture company and when that business closed he knew he could do it better and he opened his first store at 1236 20th Street, NW. That was in 1940.
Then World War 2 broke out and Sam immediately enlisted serving in Europe and participating in the liberation of Paris.
Back home after the war he re-started his business – Stern Office Furniture – a few years later his brother Saul joined him and together they built one of the largest office furniture dealerships in the United States. Sam recently recalled that what really made his company a success was a project he won in the late 1950’s furnishing the then new AFL-CIO headquarters building. He retired in 1985 but remained a trusted adviser to the present day.
Sam had enjoyed good health until the last couple of years but his passing was both quick and peaceful. Those of us who continue to work for the company and those who once worked for the company will always remember the lessons he taught us about business and life. Read More
Click Here for a link to Sam’s obituary.