Stephen Riggio

Follow founder on our Forum or

Chief executive officer, Barnes & Noble

Nationality: American.

Born: 1954, in New York City, New York.

Education: Brooklyn College, AB, 1974.

Family: Son of Steve Riggio (semiprofessional boxer and cab driver); married (spouse's name unknown); children: three.

Career: Barnes & Noble Bookstores, 1974–1978, positions in buying and marketing departments; 1978–1981, general merchandising manager; 1981–1987, vice president and general manager of direct mail and publishing divisions; 1988–1995, executive vice president of merchandising; B. Dalton Bookseller, 1993–1995, president; Barnes & Noble, 1995–1997, chief operations officer; 1997–2002, vice chairman;, 1997–1999, chief executive officer; Barnes & Noble, 2002–, chief executive officer.

Address: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 122 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011; http://www.barnesand

■ Stephen Riggio worked for his brother, Leonard, at Barnes & Noble for nearly 28 years in a variety of capacities before being appointed chief executive officer in 2002. Riggio was largely responsible for the launch of the company's online subsidiary,, in 1997. In contrast to his brother's outspokenness, Riggio was known to be more reserved and intellectual.


Although Stephen Riggio experienced some of his success due to his own leadership skills, his assent to the position at the top of Barnes & Noble was thanks in no small part to the work of his brother, Leonard. The Riggios grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a home filled with extended family members, such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The brothers' father was Steve Riggio, a semiprofessional boxer from 1939 to 1948 who once defeated the eventual middleweight champion Rocky Graziano. The elder Steve Riggio, who died in 1982, later became a cab driver in New York City. Leonard, who was 14 years older than Stephen, opened a bookstore on the campus of New York University in 1965. He later convinced bankers to loan to him $1.2 million to buy Barnes & Noble, an old bookstore located on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Riggio was still a teenager when his brother began running these bookstores. After graduating from high school, Riggio enrolled at Brooklyn College, earning a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology in 1974. He immediately went to work for his brother upon graduation. Riggio joined his brother's business during the same year in which Leonard initiated a plan to provide major discounts. For instance, books on the New York Times best-seller list were marked down 40 percent while best-selling paperbacks were marked down 20 percent. Leonard Riggio's plan was later credited with changing the economics of the bookselling industry.

Riggio worked at Barnes & Noble in New York in various capacities from 1974 through 1987. He began working in the company's buying and marketing departments before being promoted to general merchandising manager in 1978. Three years later he was promoted to vice president and general manager of the company's direct mail and publishing divisions. Leonard Riggio's quest for growth culminated in the purchase of one of his company's competitors, B. Dalton Bookseller, in 1986. The acquisition made Barnes & Noble the largest bookseller in the United States. In 1987 Stephen Riggio was appointed executive vice president in charge of marketing.


Leonard Riggio borrowed an idea from such retailers as Circuit City and Toys "R" Us to develop a chain of book superstores. The idea behind the construction of these stores was to offer a vast selection of books at discounted prices and to attract customers by offering such amenities as reading tables, comfortable chairs, and coffee shops. Stephen Riggio was instrumental in the development of these superstores, which began in earnest in 1991.

Riggio remained executive vice president of Barnes & Noble through 1995. In 1993 he added a second title when he was named president of B. Dalton Bookseller. He moved into the newly created position of chief operating officer of Barnes & Noble in 1995. Two years later, in 1997, he was named vice chairman of the company.


Leonard and Stephen Riggio were shocked during the mid-1990s with the rapid growth of, an online bookseller. In 1996 Stephen convinced Leonard that the company should create an online presence, although initially the brothers envisioned a Web site that would be used to market the company's physical bookstores. However, Amazon grew rapidly and began to cut into Barnes & Noble's profits. The Riggios decided to compete directly with Amazon, believing that they would destroy the start-up company on the strength of Barnes & Noble's name as a retail outlet and because of the company's deep pockets.

Riggio was named chief executive officer of the online subsidiary, Although technicians did not believe that the company's online site was ready, Riggio ordered the site to go live in March 1997. Although Barnes & Noble's online subsidiary had an agreement with America Online to be the latter's exclusive bookseller, the site failed to compete effectively with Amazon. Riggio, who maintained dual duties as CEO of the online company and vice chairman of the parent company, did not devote his full attention to In an interview with Wired (June 1999), one executive questioned, "If you are trying to significantly compete against your archenemy, do you think it's smart to have the chairman treating it as a part-time job?"

Riggio was phased out as CEO of in 1998, and in 1999 he resumed his full-time duties as vice chairman of Barnes & Noble. His experience with the online subsidiary did not end there, however, as he was partially responsible for focusing on the improvement of delivery times for online sales. did not have a CEO for nearly two years in the early 2000s, and Riggio served as the subsidiary's acting chief executive during that time until the appointment of a replacement in 2002.


Riggio was never able to avoid comparisons with Leonard, though their styles stood largely in stark contrast to one another. Leonard Riggio developed a reputation for being confrontational as the leader of Barnes & Noble. He was reviled by many due to the success of Barnes & Noble, which caused the closure of countless independent bookstores throughout the United States.

Despite the criticism, Leonard remained outspoken and at times contemptuous towards his competitors. By comparison, Stephen was known to spend his spare time with his family at his New Jersey home. He was regarded as being more reserved and more likely to avoid confrontation than his older brother. "Len is the tough one and he's an incredible negotiator," said one family friend. "Steve is more intellectual and reads a lot of books" ( Wired , June 1999). The brothers' opinions were known to clash.


Riggio's years in the number two position at Barnes & Noble ended in 2002, when Leonard announced that he was stepping down as chief executive officer and that Stephen would be promoted to the position. Leonard Riggio remained as the company's chairman. Although Stephen Riggio had nearly 28 years of experience with the company, some analysts questioned the move, noting potential conflicts of interest because Leonard Riggio remained the company's largest shareholder. Some commentators also questioned whether Stephen's leadership style would be as successful as his older brother's. Barnes & Noble stayed the course after Riggio took over the company, opening more than 30 new stores in 2003. The company's overall growth remained steady. In 2003 the company announced that the online subsidiary Riggio had run would go private, with the company repurchasing all of the outstanding stock. Riggio was active on the boards of the National Book Foundation, the Association for the Help of Retarded Children, and the National Down Syndrome Society.

See also entries on Barnes & Noble, Inc. and B. Dalton Bookseller Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

Dugan, I. Jeanne, "The Baron of Books," BusinessWeek , June 18, 1998, .

Kirkpatrick, David D., "A Shifting of Leadership at Bookseller," New York Times , February 14, 2002.

St. John, Warren, "Barnes & Noble's Epiphany," Wired , June 1999, .

Wilner, Richard, "Ring-Around with Riggio's Resume," New York Post , November 11, 1998.

—Matthew C. Cordon

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: