Why did Tom choose to attend an Ivy League institution?
Tom was born in Newark and grew up in Orange, New Jersey. After his father died when he was 11, he moved back with his mother to his parents' ancestral home of Vienna, Austria, to attend high school at the American International School. He was junior All-Austria in basketball, recalling, "It was probably the only place in the world I could have been all-anything." He knew that he wanted to attend college back in the States, and he returned to the U.S. in the fall of 1967 after he obtained an academic scholarship to attend Harvard.
How did Tom's Ivy League experience help prepare him for his career?
Of equal importance to his time spent in the classroom, Tom got his first taste for entrepreneurship while an undergraduate at Harvard. He co-founded The Harvard Independent, a student-run newspaper still around today, and he took on business management roles at Harvard Student Agencies. After graduating Harvard College in 1971, he matriculated to Harvard Business School, graduating with an MBA in 1973. He then went into the grocery business, where he became the youngest-ever Vice President at Jewel Companies, a Chicago-based grocery chain, at the age of 27. His entrepreneurial experiences at Harvard, combined with his time learning the intricacies of retail in the grocery business, laid the groundwork for his idea to launch an office supply superstore.
What accomplishment after Tom's time at Harvard was he most proud of?
Aside from his family, his proudest achievement came in serving as the "Godfather" of the Friends of Harvard Basketball. He was instrumental in the turnaround of the Harvard men's basketball program, encouraging the University's athletic department to hire Coach Tommy Amaker in 2007. He looked on proudly as the team went on to win five-consecutive Ivy League titles.
Is there another Ivy League school that Tom most enjoyed traveling to and why?
Tom loved travelling to watch Harvard play Princeton at Jadwin Gymnasium, most of all because it was always exciting to see Harvard have the chance to play a competitive Princeton team at the end of the season. Those trips were made sweeter in the late 2000s when Harvard started winning those games.
How had Tom's relationship with Ivy League Basketball evolved since his time at Harvard?
Tom was an avid fan of Harvard basketball as a student attending all of the games and often traveling to away games with the band. He started the Friends of Harvard Basketball when he graduated in the summer of 1974 when Satch Sanders was the coach. He supported the program for over 40 years without asking for anything in return. The reward was the first Ivy League championship win and the others that followed.
How did the Ivy League community impact Tom's life or career?
Earning a scholarship to attend Harvard completely altered his life's trajectory. Aside from the education he acquired and the friendships he formed, attending Harvard planted him in Cambridge and in the City of Boston—a city he grew to love and where he raised his family. More broadly, the Ivy League community, particularly Ivy League athletics, was the basis of countless friendships and professional relationships during his time at Staples and at the Highland Consumer Fund.
Did Tom ever work with any former Ivy League student-athletes?
Tom enjoyed mentoring former Ivy League student-athletes during their professional careers, particularly former members of the Harvard basketball team. Many former Harvard basketball players will recall Tom's positive influence in their lives, giving valuable career advice and guidance as they pursued passions beyond the court. There is no way to know how far he reached and how many lives he touched deeply. He gave quietly and generously to all in so many ways. He employed, found jobs for, supported and befriended so many.
How did Tom stay involved with Harvard after his undergraduate career?
While being a huge fan of the Harvard basketball team as a student and member of the Harvard band, he was an equally active fan after graduation. He was the founding member of the Friends of Harvard Basketball in 1974, and he remained active with the team throughout his life. He also served on the Board of Overseers for the Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences, as well as the Visiting Committee of Harvard Business School. His sons William Stemberg (A.B. 2014) and Rylan Hamilton (A.B. 2002, M.B.A. 2009) also attended Harvard.
Tom Stemberg was a Harvard student from 1967-71 and founded the Friends of Harvard Basketball in 1974. He is a member of the 2018 Class of Legends of Ivy League Basketball that will be formally honored during the 2018 Ivy League Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments on Saturday, March 10, at The Palestra in Philadelphia. Purchase tickets at IvyMadness.com.
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About the Ivy League
The Ivy League is the most diverse intercollegiate conference in the country with more than 8,000 student-athletes competing each year. Sponsoring conference championships in 33 men's and women's sports and averaging more than 35 varsity teams at each school, the Ivy League provides more intercollegiate athletic opportunities per school than any other conference in the country. All eight Ivy schools are among the top 20 of NCAA Division I schools in number of sports offered for both men and women and enjoy regular competitive success at the highest championship levels of NCAA Division I athletics.
The League's schools -- Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale -- share a rich history of success and influence in college athletics, dating back to the origins of intercollegiate competition. Ivy League institutions have won 287 team national championships and 579 individual national championships since intercollegiate competition began. The Ivy League conference was formally established in 1954, based on the mutual agreement that intercollegiate athletics competition should be "kept in harmony with the essential educational purposes of the institution." For more information, please visit IvyLeague.com.