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Laura Alber will become CEO of Williams-Sonoma in May

Replacing retiring Howard Lester

SAN FRANCISCO — Williams-Sonoma said Tuesday that its longtime chairman and CEO, Howard Lester, will retire in May and the retailer will name its president, Laura Alber, as CEO and will nominate her as a board member.

Lester, who has led the company since 1978 when he bought it from its founder, Chuck Williams, will remain a consultant to the company through December 2012 and will have the title chairman emeritus.

Williams-Sonoma also said its board will name Adrian Bellamy, now lead independent director and a board member since 1997, as non-executive chairman.

It also will nominate Sharon McCollam to the board. She has been executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer since 2006 and has been with the company since 2000. In addition, Pat Connolly, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, will be re-nominated to the board.

When Lester acquired Williams-Sonoma, it had four stores, a small catalog and $4 million in revenue. Today, it is one of the world's largest multi-channel specialty retailers with six e-commerce Web sites, seven catalogs and more than 600 stores. Its brands include home furnishings retailer Pottery Barn.

"It has been an extraordinary privilege to lead this wonderful company for the past 31 years but an even greater privilege to watch the passion of our 27,000 associates delight our customers every day and together take our vision to a place that we could have only dreamed," Lester said in a statement.

"I continue to be amazed by the creativity and entrepreneurship that lives within our culture. Today's announcement is the culmination of the long-term succession plan we set in motion upon my reappointment as CEO in July 2006," he said. "I could not be more proud of what we have built and have complete confidence that the company will continue to thrive under the leadership team headed by Laura."

Alber said, "It is an exceptional honor to follow in the footsteps of one of the most highly esteemed executives in retail. Howard has been an outstanding mentor, and he is retiring at a time when the foundation of the company has never been stronger."

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