The International Casual Furnishings Association (ICFA) has named William S. Brown Sr. and Fred Schlesinger the 2014 recipients of the casual industry’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.
|William S. Brown Sr.
Brown was a leader in the casual furniture industry for 20 years. “He was a man who reinvented our industry and brought it a level of performance and excellence that we find very difficult to emulate,” says Henry Vanderminden IV, president of Telescope Casual Furniture.
After some 15 years in the steel industry, Brown shifted his attention to furniture manufacturing, working for Delwood Furniture Company and then Burris Industries, a North Carolina-based upholstery manufacturer.
In 1980 he was named president of Marathon Corporation, a privately-owned Birmingham, Alabama, conglomerate that included Winston Furniture, an aluminum patio furniture manufacturer. In early 1986, Brown and a group of investors acquired Winston from Marathon, and in 1987 they acquired Lyon-Shaw, a North Carolina wrought-iron furniture manufacturer. They took the company public on the American Stock Exchange shortly thereafter.
In 1988, they sold the company to a Miami investment group, and it became private again. Brown remained president, CEO and an equity owner of Winston until early 1993, when he took the company public again, sold his equity interest and retired.
Throughout his casual industry career, Brown was active in the Summer and Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association (SCFMA) – which preceded the ICFA – and served as chairman, president and director for over 10 years. He also served as a director on the American Furniture Manufacturers Association board for six years.
He was a civic-minded executive, serving the Birmingham Rotary Club, The Country Club of Birmingham and the Independent Presbyterian Church. In the mid-’70s, he was elected to the Mountain Brook City Council.
Brown was married to Jere Louise Moore Brown for 37 years and had five children. He died in 1998 after a brief illness. He was 62.
Fred Schlesinger was one of the founding members of the SCFMA in 1959 and served on the board of directors for 15 years. His McArther Collection received the first Lillian B. Winchester “best of show” award. He is also said to have hired the industry’s first female sales representative.
He started his career in 1946 at the Samuel S. Perry Company, an importer of sporting goods and wicker/rattan in San Francisco. The company later changed its name to the Hurricane Import Company, and Schlesinger remained there until the mid-1970s, serving as vice president of Sales and beginning his many travels to Hong Kong and the Philippines.
In 1974 Schlesinger launched his own company, Typhoon, and remained president until it closed and he retired in 1991. During this time, he “founded” the informal 5:01 club, whose sole purpose was to bring together manufacturers, representatives and retailers at the end of the day to enjoy camaraderie. In 2010, friends brought Schlesinger, the honorary chairman of the 5:01 club, to Chicago to celebrate his birthday and rekindle old friendships.
Now 88, Schlesinger is active in his hometown of Burlingame, California. Elaine, his wife of 60 years, died in 2009.
Brown and Schlesinger will be honored during the ICFA Awards Gala at the Chicago Field Museum on September 18, during the International Casual Furnishings & Accessories Market.
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