The Accidental CEO
Beth Williams | Roxbury Technology | Boston
The happy story begins sadly. On Thanksgiving morning, 2002, Archie Williams's dream was closer than ever to being realized. Williams had founded Roxbury Technology in 1994 to distribute remanufactured toner cartridges and, he hoped, to eventually remanufacture the cartridges themselves. By late 2002, he'd nearly succeeded, not least by developing an extraordinary relationship with Tom Stemberg, founder of office supplies giant Staples, whom he met at a golf tournament. Staples became Roxbury's top customer and Stemberg a mentor. And come Thanksgiving, everything was in place for the company to begin remanufacturing its own cartridges in early 2003. But Archie Williams was late to the family dinner and not answering his phone, so his daughter, Beth, went to get him.
She found him in bed, where he had passed away overnight in his sleep at age 69.
In the days that followed, it became clear that Roxbury would survive only if Beth took over. But she wasn't sure she wanted to. She'd never been an entrepreneur. She was 39 and in her ninth year at Blue Cross & Blue Shield, having risen to a director-level position. A single parent, she'd just bought her first home 10 days earlier. Life was working. Now this?
Still grieving, and agonizing about her choice, she was in church one Sunday and heard a sermon titled "Courage When the Call Comes." Maybe this is it, she remembers thinking. Maybe this is why I'm here. In January she told Stemberg she was picking up her late father's reins. Staples paid for executive training. Stemberg and his team opened doors for her. And here's the thing, Stemberg says: "As talented and charismatic and entrepreneurial as Archie was, Beth was even better. Better prepared. More talented."
Roxbury Technology is up to 25 employees and hit breakeven in 2004 on $6 million in sales; 2005 is unfolding on target for $8 million. And last August the company began doing what Archie Williams had always envisioned it would: It began doing its own manufacturing and started providing dozens of good living-wage jobs in a community that has never had enough. "That's what I wanted," Beth Williams says, "to realize my dad's dream, his legacy." Yet securing her father's legacy is only just a start, she knows. Because, sure, that's one legacy down. But now there's one to go.