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Pursue passion at your own risk

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Everybody, it seems, tells aspiring leaders to follow their passion. Not Thomas Stemberg.

 The founder and executive chairman of Staples office supply superstores says the parade of people following their passion has led to a bevy of closed-down restaurants and bankrupt golf shops.

 “I think following your passion is a really dumb idea,” Stemberg says. “I follow a great market that provides an opportunity to satisfy customers and to make money.”

 That’s what he did in 1985 when he started Staples. At the time, high-margin stationers dominated office-product sales. Big customers enjoyed steep discounts while little ones paid a premium. So, Staples went after individual and small business customers with affordable prices.

1,500 stores and $11.6 billion a year in sales later, Staples backs up Stemberg’s assertion: Don’t let your passion get in the way of good business sense.

— Adapted from “Rules to Live By, and Break, According to Staples Founder Thomas Stemberg,” www.knowledge@Wharton.com.

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