Obituary: W. Howard Lester, chairman emeritus of Williams-Sonoma

W. Howard Lester, who served as chairman and CEO of Williams-Sonoma from 1978 until his retirement in May 2010, died this week at the age of 75.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Howard Lester," said Laura J. Alber, who succeeded Lester as CEO. "Howard was a pioneer in retail and an incredible leader who served as a friend and mentor to many, and he will be dearly missed."

Cancer was the cause of death.

According to the company's press release, Lester transformed business operations at Williams-Sonoma during his career, "taking Williams-Sonoma Inc. public in 1983 while overseeing the development of more than 600 retail stores, seven direct-mail catalogs and six online retail websites. He built a small kitchen company into an international, multichannel specialty retailer."