Williams-Sonoma CEO to retire

San Francisco Williams-Sonoma said its longtime chief, Howard Lester, will retire from the posts of CEO and chairman after 31 years.

After his retirement in May, Lester will continue to advise the company until December 2012 as chairman emeritus.

Lester has run the San Francisco company since 1978, when he bought it from founder Chuck Williams and it had four retail stores.

It now has more than 600 stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. It also owns the upscale Pottery Barn and West Elm housewares chains.

The company's board plans to appoint Laura Alber its new CEO. Alber, the company’s president, joined the organization in 1995.

Alber has been credited with starting the company's Pottery Barn Kids and PBteen lines and for its expansion into the Middle East.