Williams-Sonoma sells to the kitchen connoisseur

International growth in the houseware stores and catalog markets with use of a Bombardier Global 5000.

By Brent Bundy
Phoenix Police Officer-Pilot
AS350, AW119, Cessna 182/172/210

Based at OAK (Oakland CA), the Bombardier Global 5000 of Williams-Sonoma, Inc gives their executive team access to all corners of the globe.

A Bombardier Global 5000 sits in a nondescript hangar on the fringes of northern California's Oakland. While the Global is a special plane in and of itself, this one is of significant importance. It is the tool utilized by a retail empire built on cookware, kitchen appliances and home furnishings. It is the plane of Williams-Sonoma, Inc.

History of the company

Chuck Williams was a visionary, a culinary genius, and a reluctant but savvy businessman–a man of many talents. As the founder of Williams-Sonoma, there is little doubt that he, along with friends James Beard and Julia Child, can be credited with the cooking revolution that swept America in the 1960s and 70s.

Chuck was born and raised in Florida during the Depression. His family fled west to California for a new start in 1932. He settled in the Indio area where he got his first taste of retail sales and catalog experience working on a date farm that ran a small mail-order business.

It was during this same time period that he also cultivated 2 interests which would dictate his future: construction and cooking. Chuck had developed an early love of the culinary arts in his grandmother's kitchen and it prospered during his tenure at the date farm. This is also where he honed his carpentry skills which he eventually applied to building houses and the interiors of the stores he would open.

In 1941, he took a job at aircraft-manufacturer Lockheed, where he riveted airplane parts. As World War II broke out, he volunteered for a special assignment that sent him to Ethiopia, Iran and India working on aircraft for the military. At the end of the war, he returned to California and built his first house in Sonoma.

During an excursion to France in 1953, Chuck fell in love with French food as well as the utensils used in its preparation. Soon thereafter he purchased a hardware store in Sonoma and in 1956 transformed it into the original Williams-Sonoma cookware store. In 1958, Chuck moved the store to San Francisco where he found immediate success. The ensuing year he returned to France on his first buying trip. This expedition would be the start of countless overseas trips for Chuck and his team.

What started as a simple mailer sent out to known customers turned into their now-famous catalog in 1972. The European purchasing trips became even more important to support the growing demand from the catalog business.

By the late 1970s, 3 additional stores had opened and the company was facing financial difficulty with the new expansion. In 1978, retired computer software executive Howard Lester stepped in and bought the operation but kept Chuck on board.

From that point on, the business flourished. In 1983 they went public on the New York Stock Exchange and by the mid-1980s began purchasing other companies. Through Lester's guidance over the ensuing decades, Williams-Sonoma, Inc broadened their whole-home experience umbrella to over 600 retail locations and additional entities including Pottery Barn, West Elm, Mark and Graham, and Rejuvenation. They've become one of the largest online retailers and most successful catalog operations in existence.

Flight department began with Falcon 20 chartered from CLA

Upon acquiring the company, Lester realized that extensive travel would be a necessity. The occasional trips to France turned into weeks-long worldwide adventures for him and the team to secure massive orders for a burgeoning corporation. However, their method of travel changed when Lester took over and he recognized the importance of aircraft to his business.

In the mid-1980s, Lester began chartering a Dassault Falcon 20 through Clay Lacy Aviation (CLA), using Pilot Ron "Fuzzy" Freswick on many of the flights. So when Lester established an in-house flight department, he hired Fuzzy to join him as the chief pilot.
Originally based at SFO (San Francisco CA), they later moved to their current location of OAK (Oakland Intl). By 1999, Fuzzy had taken the role of director of aviation at Williams-Sonoma, Inc and brought on Michael Stouffer, former chief pilot for the AZ DPS Aviation Unit, as the company's chief pilot.

Aircraft acquisition

After chartering the Falcon 20 from CLA for many years, they began a long relationship with Bombardier with the purchase of a Challenger 601 in 1994 followed by a Global Express in 2003. The Challenger handled the domestic flights while the Global Express tackled the longer international trips.

Mirroring the economy and the rest of business aviation, 2008 brought revisions. The Challenger was sold and staff reductions left 3 pilots, 2 mx techs, and 1 flight attendant. And although flight hours were reduced, the capability of the remaining Global Express still allowed the team to get wherever they needed to be.

As an avid business flyer and golfer, when Lester planned his retirement from Williams-Sonoma, Inc in 2010, he had purchased himself a new Bombardier Global 5000. Unfortunately, his plans for traveling the world hitting his favorite links would not come to fruition. Lester passed away 5 months after leaving the company that he had helped turn into a retail giant. His estate had no need for the aircraft but his former enterprise did, so Williams-Sonoma, Inc sold their Global Express and purchased the Global 5000, still bearing Lester's initials in the tail number.

Director of Aviation Christian Memmott

Dir of Aviation Christian Memmott brought airborne law enforcement and airline flight experience with him when he took over the W-S flight department.

Laura Alber took over as Williams-Sonoma CEO after Lester's departure, bringing with her a new era of expansion and a new style of management. Changes at the top also brought changes to the flight department. With Fuzzy and Stouffer anticipating retirement, a new director of aviation was needed. That's when Christian Memmott entered the story.

Memmott spent much of his childhood split between both sides of the country. After his parents divorced, his mother stayed in Connecticut while his father settled in the west. These cross-country jaunts were often aboard Boeing 747s, which Memmott credits with fostering his longtime love of aviation.

While still in high school, he learned to fly in a 1946 Aeronca Champion. Before finding his way to aviation, he would venture down many career paths. Memmott was a firefighter, a graphic designer, and a police officer. "I just always wanted to be a cop," he recalls. In 1997, he joined the Oroville CA PD, where he would spend 2.5 years before transferring to the Butte County Sheriff's Office as their first full-time pilot. He remembers, "I may have been the only deputy to ever join and go straight to the field without working in the courts or the jail."


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