From the WSJ:
“I’m no longer going to be in charge,” Mr. Riggio said. “I’m done with that. I’m done with being top banana.”
Mr. Riggio, who built Barnes & Noble into the nation’s largest bookstore chain, said he played an active role last fall in the hiring of the company’s current chief executive,Ronald Boire.
Mr. Riggio is the company’s largest individual shareholder with a 17.5% stake. He says he has no plans to sell or add to his stockholdings. Mr. Riggio, who resigned as the company’s CEO in 2002, will remain on the board after stepping down as executive chairman.
Len Riggio got his start in college bookselling in 1965, and built a small company in that market. He then acquired the NYC bookstore B&N in 1971 and proceeded to built a national chain using the name. B&N had just a single store at the time, and you can see it in the lead photo.
Riggio was one of the people who disrupted bookselling a generation before Jeff Bezos. He saw the same opportunities Bezos did, and ruthlessly disrupted the stale and inefficient indie bookstores with chain (and later, big box) stores that offered a huge selection and good service.
And then thirty years later Jeff Bezos came along and pulled the exact same stunt on Riggio that Riggio had pulled on indie bookstores: offering an even larger selection with the best service.
Of course, Riggio wasn’t the only person to see that opportunity; Waldenbooks predated Riggio by a generation, and he also had contemporary competition like Crown Books (imploded) Books a Million (which is still around) and Target’s B. Dalton (Wikipedia). That bookstore chain was the largest in the US when B&N acquired it in 1987 (it had more stores than B&N, yes, but it did not have a committed ownership).
Really, Riggio is less the sole book retail genius of his generation, an impression you might get from the stories circulating today, than he is the survivor of a Hunger Games type of book retailing that spanned fifty years.
And that is a feat which I find even more impressive once we understand the context.