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Haas, O'Connor, Wolff in Hall of Fame

HIGH POINT — Industry leaders Howard Haas, Kevin O'Connor and Melvyn Wolff were inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame during a banquet here last night.
 Howard HaasHoward Haas
 Kevin O'ConnerKevin O'Conner
 Melvyn WolffMelvyn Wolff
They join 88 members previously inducted into the hall, which recognizes individuals whose outstanding achievements have contributed to the continued growth and development of the U.S. furniture industry. The event was hosted by former Fox 8 evening news anchor Julie Luck.

"Every person on the slate this year is worthy so the selection process was particularly competitive," said Randy Ford, president of the American Furniture Hall of Fame Foundation. He noted that the new system combines membership votes with a points-based rating system of each nominee by the Furniture Hall of Fame Foundation's industry fellow selection committee.

"This new process looks throughout the industry, across all segments, to ensure the integrity of the honor," he said. "Each new member truly represents enduring excellence, superior accomplishments, innovation and creativity, and philanthropic generosity in their time, talents and resources."

Here are the biographies provided by the foundation for the newest inductees:

• Howard G. Haas, born in 1924 and president and CEO of Sealy for 19 years, increased revenues from $32 million to $550 million without the acquisition of a competitor or supplier. He integrated a group of 34 independent licensees into a unified entity, achieving new efficiencies and consistency across factories in production and service. Haas is a leader and mentor to many in the bedding industry; three of his young executives now lead Simmons, Sealy and Serta. Under his leadership, in-store displays showcased Posturepedic bedding, sleep shops made their debut, and Sealy became the first bedding company to run national television advertising. A retired adjunct professor of strategic management at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, Haas co-authored the best-selling book, "The Leader Within."

• Kevin M. O'Connor, born in 1945, worked his way up from sales representative to president of two furniture companies before launching Legacy Classic Furniture in 1999. Partnering with Samuel Kuo of Samson Holding, he developed a business model that enables customers to mix a wide variety of products on a direct-container basis with door-to-door service from China. This plan, now common throughout the industry, makes it possible for independent retailers to affordably source smaller quantities of imported products. Today, O'Connor is president and CEO of Samson Marketing, which includes Legacy and Universal Furniture. With a long track record of service to the furniture industry and community organizations, he has served in leading roles for the High Point Market Authority, the High Point Premarket, American Home Furnishings Alliance, the American Furniture Hall of Fame and the City of Hope.

• Melvyn L. Wolff, born in 1931 and chairman of Houston-based Star Furniture, is credited with transforming a small credit-oriented, low-end store into one of the country's most successful retail furniture operations. With his sister, Shirley Toomim, Wolff repositioned the company, founded by his father, to serve a more affluent customer. Star has consistently been a leader in creating innovative marketing strategies and display techniques ahead of industry practices. In 1997 he sold his company to Berkshire Hathaway. Star has 750 employees in four cities and is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Wolff is on the board of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and is an active industry contributor. His involvement includes the National Home Furnishings Assn. and numerous community boards.

Other candidates for this year's Hall of Fame were Jena Hall, a five-time Pinnacle Award winner, who has created successful licensing programs, including Jena Hall's Inspirations from the Old Country; Clement M. Lange Jr., who grew Best Chairs from a five-person operation repairing furniture and truck seats into Best Home Furnishings, a leading manufacturer of residential upholstery with five plants producing more than 4,000 chairs, recliners and sofas daily; and Thomas E. Wright, co-founder and former chairman of Wright of Thomasville, a supplier of labels, in-store display graphics, and point-of-sale products to the mattress, upholstery, case goods, floor covering and rug industries, who, along with his brother, the late Bill Wright, grew their printing company from a small, single location serving one customer in 1961 to a global operation with seven facilities.

Platinum level sponsors of the Hall of Fame Foundation are headlined by AICO, Ashley Furniture Inds., Furniture Brands International, La-Z-Boy and Samson Holdings.

Gold sponsors are Art Van Furniture, Berkshire Hathaway Furniture Cos., FEI Marketing, Hickory Springs Mfg., Leggett & Platt, Markor Cos., Sealy and Zenith Global Logistics.

Silver sponsors are Best Home Furnishings, Culp, Flexsteel Inds., Havertys, Klaussner Furniture Inds., Raymour & Flanigan, Simmons Bedding Co., Stein World and Vaughan-Bassett Furniture.

Copper sponsors are Baer's Furniture, Bassett Furniture Inds., Donald A. Belgrad, Carpenter Co., City Furniture, El Dorado Furniture, Grand Home Furnishings, International Market Centers, L.&J.G. Stickley, Primo International, Rooms To Go, Steinreich Communications, Therapedic International, Watkins and Shepard Trucking and Zuo Modern Contemporary.

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