Thomas A. Christopher, a 1968 graduate of the Community College of Allegheny County, was awarded the 2007 CCAC Legendary Alumnus Award at the 10th annual An Illumination of Legends in Leadership dinner in May. He not only credits CCAC with saving his educational career, but also lauds the college for inspiring him to achieve success greater than he ever imagined.
After graduating from the former Har-Brack High School in 1965, Tom began his studies at the University of Pennsylvania. As the war in Vietnam began to escalate, he decided against returning to Penn, and returned home to Natrona Heights, where he obtained a job.
When CCAC opened its doors in the fall of 1966, Tom was among the first to enroll. He attended classes for three semesters at Boyce Campus, which was, at the time, located at Gateway High School in Monroeville. After earning 42 credits in three semesters at CCAC, Tom transferred to Ohio’s Kent State University and earned his BBA in economics in 1970.
“I’m not sure what I would have become if I hadn’t transferred to CCAC,” says Tom. “The most important thing I learned was to apply myself successfully, set goals and realize that I could be consummate about achieving and getting things done.”
After receiving his degree, Tom began his career in Cleveland, Ohio as an assistant store manager for Pier One Imports. For the next 19 years, his career with the company advanced as he relocated to different states and held various positions, culminating with the executive vice president of operations post. As executive vice president, Tom was in charge of stores, real estate, distribution, logistics and financial planning. During his last five years with the company, Pier One opened 300 new stores and doubled sales from $250 million to $500 million.
Tom then decided on a career change, and accepted a position as chairman, CEO and president of Bookstop Inc, the first super bookstore in the United States. When the company was sold to Barnes & Noble, Tom was named president of Barnes & Noble’s Retail Division, and was instrumental in the company’s annual sales growth from $100 million to $700 million, and in developing the concept of the company's superstores.
His next career change was to California-based Restoration Hardware, where he served as president, chief operating officer and director. During his tenure, he expanded the company from a regional chain of five stores with annual revenue of $4 million to a publicly held company of 107 stores with annual revenue of $370 million.
In 2002, Tom joined the Follett Higher Education Group, the largest operator of college bookstores in North America and a leading provider of used books and retailing services to independently managed bookstores. As president and a member of Follett Corporation’s Board of Directors, Tom is a key decision maker and strategist, and was an active force behind the implementation of the company’s eXcel customer service initiative, the growth of 120 new stores and four consecutive years of increased sales and profitability.
In addition to CCAC’s 2007 Legendary Alumnus Award, Tom was nationally recognized as an Outstanding Alumnus by the American Association of Community Colleges in April. Throughout his professional career, Tom has received a myriad of awards and recognitions, and has been philanthropically active with numerous organizations.
He currently lives in Hinsdale, Illinois with his wife, Barbara, and has two children—Mark, 26, a graduate student at Princeton University and Mia, 19, a student at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The 2007 Legendary Alumnus offered advice for future CCAC alumni: “I think young people need to really try to understand themselves, get in touch with the things they like, don’t like and have a passion for, and let that passion lead them. This is true of careers, relationships and in life. I think it’s important for everybody to really give it their best in life, work hard and try hard. I’ve found in life that you really get back what you put into things.”