When Roger Friedlander and his friend, the late Henry Epstein, worked at the Rochester Stationery Co. nearly six decades ago, they spent hours talking about how the business could be improved, made more efficient and turn a profit.
In 1960, the longtime partners bought the company and did exactly what they said they could do. Their secret weapon was incorporating technology— an early iteration of the modern-day computer—into daily operations. “In those days, having a computer in our industry was quite unusual,” Friedlander says, “and we were among the first.”
In the mid-1960s, Friedlander and Epstein changed the name of the business to Spectrum Office Products. Under their leadership, it became one of the largest office supply companies in the Northeast. When it was acquired by Staples in 1994, Spectrum Office Products reported revenues of $57 million.
These days, Staples delivers packages throughout the United States. Some are delivered from the same warehouse on Clay Road in Henrietta that Friedlander used when John F. Kennedy was president.
Next-day service is so common now that many take it for granted; Friedlander was one of the pioneers of the practice.
“In the 1960s, we decided to improve our inventory and delivery capabilities by automating them. At that time, if we had 20 pens in stock and someone ordered 10, we’d scratch through the 20 and change the number remaining to 10. We automated that to improve efficiency. Delivering the next day was virtually unheard of, but we did it. The products we were selling were not different—a pencil is a pencil, a binder is a binder. The difference was how the product was handled between the warehouse and the customer.”
The dawning of next-day service was so seamless that many customers didn’t realize their packages were being shipped from a great distance. “I always got a big kick out of visiting customers,” Friedlander recalls. “We had one customer in Cleveland. I asked him, ‘Where is your product coming from?’ and he said, ‘From downtown.’ I’d tell them the package was coming from Rochester. He laughed at me and I said, “I can prove it to you. I have the packing slip.”
In addition, Friedlander was a pioneer of what he calls stockless inventory, which enabled companies—including Xerox Corp., which became a customer in 1964—to dispense with maintaining their own inventory on site. “Imagine the inventory Xerox would need to keep in Webster to satisfy their needs,” he says.
Friedlander enjoyed incredible career success. He retired as a vice president of Staples Inc., served as past president of Staples Business Advantage, and is a former corporate consultant for the national retailer. But many people respect him even more for a completely different reason. To them, the 1952 graduate of Brighton High School is a prime example of how one should give back to the community.
A strong bond with the University of Rochester began more than 50 years ago when Friedlander and his wife, Carolyn, were students there. The couple has donated more than $2.7 million to UR, largely in the form of nursing and medical scholarships.
After selling Spectrum Office Products, Friedlander shared his business acumen with UR and served on the board of Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong, leading it through a critical juncture of its development. To that end, Friedlander chaired the children’s hospital board from 1996 to 2000. He later chaired UR’s Medical Center board from 2000 to 2004.
“Roger has been an effective and tireless advocate for the university for decades,” says Jack Kreckel, a UR senior associate vice president. “For many on campus, he is ‘Mr. Rochester.’ He has made a lasting impact on students, patients and staff. We could not be more grateful.”
Friedlander continues to serve as a UR trustee, chairing the facilities committees for both the River Campus and the Medical Center. He also is vice chairman of the board’s health affairs committee and a member of the investment committee. He also serves on the executive advisory committees for UR’s Simon Business School and Eastman Dental Center Foundation board. Elsewhere, he has served on the Hillside Family of Agencies board of governors since 2007.
Now 82, Friedlander is not slowing down. “When I sold the business, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I wasn’t going to sit and watch the grass grow. I was a workaholic and had no hobbies. To this day, people ask me what I do now that I am retired. I say, “I have not retired. I have refocused.’”
Travis Anderson is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
9/30/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.