Bob Williams, Parsons – The New School

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Bob Williams didn’t always know what he wanted to study, but he was determined to find out. “I went to five schools before I ended up at Parsons,” he says. While studying at a traditional university in his home state of Texas, Williams discovered an interest in art. “I decided that if this is what I wanted to do, I had to get serious and find a first-rate school.” That school was Parsons, and he enrolled in Communication Design in 1983.

As Williams neared graduation, his career path pointed to advertising. “At Parsons, we did everything from editorial design to corporate collateral design to advertising,” he says. “I especially enjoyed corporate identity. And the chance to make a living was appealing.”

But a fortuitous meeting in a bar with Mitchell Gold, then a national account salesperson for a furniture manufacturer, changed his life forever. “We just hit it off and discussed starting a business,” Williams says. This year, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams celebrates its 25th year in business. In that time, Williams and Gold have developed their idea into an empire, with more than 20 Signature Stores in North America and an aggressive strategy to open new stores yearly.

Williams credits his success to a perfect combination of chance, youthful self-confidence, and a solid foundation in design. “The good thing about a bad economy is that retailers are always looking for something new, and we were something new in fall of 1989,” he says. “We got a little luck and traction, and a few years later we owned a factory.”

That factory, in Taylorsville, N.C., was purchased two and a half years after the business was launched and originally had a staff of 115 employees. Today the company employs more than 750 people. Williams and Gold share responsibilities, with Williams leading product development and Gold focusing on marketing and manufacturing. “He sets the really high standards that are part of our DNA,” Williams says of his partner. “And he allows me to explore and try new things.”

How did his studies in communication design prepare Williams for a role as one of America’s most prominent furniture designers? “It was kind of spooky at first, because furniture design was new for me,” Williams says. “But I’ve applied everything I learned at Parsons to this business.”

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