melvyn l. wolff
Star Furniture Chairman Melvyn L. Wolff (b.1931 d.2017) and his sister, Shirley Toomim, took a small family-owned, low-end, credit-oriented store and transformed it into one of the most successful retail furniture operations in the country. Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, he built a dedicated team of associates who are committed to exemplary performance, strong leadership, market dominance and unwavering integrity.
Mr. Wolff joined Star Furniture in 1956 after graduating from the University of Houston and serving two years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Following the death of his father, the company's co-founder who came to the United States after escaping a Russian work camp, he became president in 1962, buying out the remaining partners with his sister in 1964. Realizing that if they were to be successful, they had to separate Star from the competition, the store moved to a large freeway location and targeted a more affluent consumer. Their "Different by Design" strategy established Star as a destination for affordable style and superior service, with large, impressive displays that sold a lifestyle rather than a commodity. Growing to six locations in Houston and one each in San Antonio, Austin and Bryan-College Station, in 1995 Star was the 35th largest furniture retailer. When sold in 1997 to the Berkshire Hathaway investment group, Star became part of the fifth largest furniture group in the U.S.
Much of the Star success is attributed to its loyal customer base, with referrals and repeat business accounting for a large portion of its sales. Star has built a strong reputation for exemplary service, a track record maintained through quality assurance and incentive programs tied to performance, and customer satisfaction measures. Mr. Wolff has always led by example, challenging all Star associates to not just work hard, but work smart. He encourages individuals to grow and give back, providing opportunities for ongoing training and advancement. Throughout his career, Mr. Wolff has been an active contributor to the industry, chairing numerous committees of the National Home Furnishings Association, serving as Convention Chairman in 1994 and vice president of its executive committee, as well as serving on the Hall of Fame Board of Directors and its Legacy Board.
Following the sale of Star to Berkshire Hathaway, Mr. Wolff established the Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff Charitable Trust to support education for the underprivileged, healthcare research and other community efforts. The Trust endowed and founded the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston, ranked first in the nation by The Princeton Review of leading undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. The Trust also supports Kipp Academy, United Way, Ronald McDonald House, Texas Children's Hospital, University of Texas Health Science Center, American Cancer Society and MD Anderson Cancer Center. Over the years, Mr. Wolff also has served as an officer or director on 14 community boards, including MD Anderson, Ronald McDonald House, American Cancer Society and the University of Houston President's Council and Endowment Board. In addition, he has served as president of the Beth Israel Congregation and is the recipient of the Max Nathan and Samuel Karff awards. Other awards include the Trail Blazer Award from the American Cancer Society, American Heritage Award from the Anti-Defamation League, and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Houston College of Business. He also served as an adjunct professor in the Jones School of Business at Rice University.