Tom Stemberg, the founder of Staples, the first big box office products stores, passed away on Friday, after a long, brave battle with stomach cancer. Tom was not only a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist, he was truly a good guy, who remembered those who had helped him and not only gave back to them directly but to other unrelated people, because he was thankful for what he had received from others.
Tom willingly gave back to the community, including those who he hoped would contribute to our country, to our business community and to the overall economy. He believed entrepreneurs would be the basis for better lives for all Americans.
Among those fortunate recipients were hundreds of students in my class “Successful Entrepreneurship,” which I created and taught at the Kellogg School. He eagerly appeared in my class each year and willingly accepted subsequent contacts by students who sought more of his invaluable advice.
Two years ago he sat for a lengthy interview, which contributed valuable input and wonderful stories for my book, Invent Reinvent Thrive, published late last year. Those stories are amongst many I tell from such interviews. Tom’s stories have a most poignant message relating to doing good homework, not just diligence, not even just due diligence but what I call “dual due diligence.”
That interview was shortly before he learned and told me that he was ill. I assumed he would thus be unavailable for my next class. I was wrong. He called me and asked when the class would take place. He delivered his usual high quality presentation, and though he was clearly drained from the process, told me that he was fine, just a bit more tired than in the past.
In his capacity as a venture capitalist, he was always ready to meet a new entrepreneur. Even when he knew quickly that the venture wasn’t suitable for him, at which point many venture capitalists look at their watches and suddenly remember a meeting they must attend, Tom would patiently sit through the meeting, giving his valuable insight and advice.
Tom was one of the good guys. His loss will be felt by many. Entrepreneurs have lost an important supporter, though he’ll be a role model for years to come. And I have lost a good friend. He will truly be missed.