George Stephen - The Man and His Legacy

George Stephen - The Man and His Legacy

George Stephen………..Many people have heard the name…….and many know that he is the inventor of the Weber kettle, and that he is the founder of Weber-Stephen Products LLC, the industry leader in the manufacturing of barbecue grills, but there is so much more to the man behind the legacy.

Although he became the sole owner of a very successful business, he still kept the friendships of all of the friends and neighbors he ever knew.  He remained grounded and never put on any airs of grandeur wealth.  He was always the life of the party, and wanted everyone to share in the party.  He often invited friends and acquaintances to family events, and no matter how large the group, he somehow managed to spend time with every person there, including the children, and left everyone feeling like a million bucks!

He never wanted the spotlight to be on him.  He preferred to spotlight the people around him in the company who made it all work.

George was a man who was generally seen dressed very casually, even at the office.  A Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and a briefcase were common.  Rarely would you catch him dressed in formal attire.   He encouraged this same manner of dress at work, at all levels. After all, we were selling a product for casual get-togethers, so the office should be casual as well. He wanted an atmosphere of being at a backyard barbecue.

He had 12 children and many grandchildren and he saw his employees as his extended family, and assured his company took care of them.  He not only knew everyone by name, but also knew and remembered their families. Being a “seasonal” business back in the day, rather than lay them off, George would find work for his employees in the off-season. He often invited employees to go with him on his many “big boy toys”, such as his plane, his boats or his motorhome.  He instilled and expected loyalty and earned it, but paid it back in many ways. People who came to work at Weber, stayed at Weber. 

George was a great role model to his children and grandchildren, and loved being around them, taking them to the circus and many other fun activities, and buying them anything they wanted. No vendor could pass by him, without him buying whatever they were selling for each of his children or grandchildren. He was a kid at heart, and enjoyed doing things with all of them.   He enjoyed skiing, golfing, boating and any adventure that meant fun.

He was known by his community as being big-hearted, and a generous contributor - usually quietly - never wanting to call attention to himself. He readily supported charity, with his favorite being the Merillac House in Chicago.  He began a tradition of hosting a Christmas party for the children of Merillac, often inviting Bears, Bulls and White Sox players to the party, with Weber employees volunteering to make it the best party ever. This tradition continues today.

While most would be happy with having one great invention, George was always inventing and trying new things…a true American entrepreneur. He loved sailing, and traveled around the world, finding items that could be used in his barbecue business, as well as his other inventions. The office was often decorated with photos from his many trips.

He was very intelligent and skilled in the mechanics and fabrication of metal bending, with a great eye for design.  He could be away for weeks, yet had the pulse of the business the minute he got back.  He could tell by the sound if a bearing or belt on a press wasn’t right.  A genius – he could envision things others had not thought of, and would make one pause and think.

And he was a natural-born salesman.  He carried his kettles to various locations to demonstrate them himself in hopes of selling his idea.  He only wanted to sell quality products…..that the Weber name stood for the best you could get.  He loved to talk about the magic of the product.

Most have described him as “larger than life”.  There was amazing depth to the man.  He had a definite presence in the office, yet was very approachable.  He had an endless amount of love for life and all it held.

I came to Weber a few years too late to know him myself, but the legend lives on……just ask anyone.

What are your thoughts? (11)

02.28.17

Paul T

I had the honor me privilegeof knowing George, Marge and the entire Stephen family. George was hilarious, warm, kind, generous and loving. I remember once caddying for him at Rolling Green Country Club - it was a blast and he was a great tipper!

02.28.17

Ann Garrison

Thanks for your comment and for sharing your memories of George and his family! I can only imagine what he was like on the golf course, from the stories I have heard! You are among the lucky, Paul!

Grill on!
Ann

02.27.17

Mark M

I was a Weber sales rep in the Virginia market for several years and had the pleasure of working with Mike, Sr., Jim Forbes and Jeff Stephen one of George's sons. I heard so many great things about George and how he treated everyone that worked within Weber!

i purchased a Summit S-670 last spring and love it!

Mark M

02.27.17

Ann Garrison

Congrats on your Summit purchase, Mark! It will bring you years of great cookouts. Working with all of those guys had to be so much fun! What a team! I am sure you have many stories to tell of those days!

Weber for Life!
Ann

02.27.17

Shery S

I come from a large, 13 children, family, in Joliet, Illinois. We had a great life too. And still do. I wish we could've met Mr. Stephen. He would've brought us even more joy.

02.26.17

Ann Garrison

Thanks for being a Weber fan, Sherry! Cookouts with your family must be as fun as George’s were! Lots of great memories were created, I’m sure!

Weber for Life!
Ann

02.27.17

Howard M

I also have a Birthday on the 26th, so it was a nice Birthday treat to read about a guy that was able to pursue his passion to the delight of Weber fans everywhere. A great story about a great man. I wish I would have met him.

02.26.17

Ann Garrison

Happy Birthday Howard! So glad you enjoyed the story of the man behind the product. Our fans are as passionate as he was about grilling, and equally eager to share great memories of get-togethers in the backyard.

Grill on!
Ann

02.27.17

John J

I never knew that about him. It sounds like company that I would have loved to work for. I have bought a few off brands before I bought our Weber, but since our first Weber char grill purchased 25 or so yrs ago, thats all we'll have. Last fall We purchased a Weber Genisus gas grill and its the best grill we have ever owned and we also have a new 22" Weber charcoal grill. Were set for life. Thank you for this article and thank you for continuing to privide the best american made product on the market.

02.26.17

Howard W

Great story and really great grills. We are a 4 Weber family with a gas grill and a charcoal grill (for my wife) in Illinois, a gas Q grill for our RV, and a Genesis gas grill at our home in Tucson AZ. Making our family a Weber family is compounded by our son working for Webber in Palatine also. When we visit our kids or they and the grandchildren come to us we most often grill out on the Weber. We love and use the recipes all the time.
Howard

02.26.17

Ann Garrison

Welcome to the family, Howard………..and thanks for contributing your son to the cause! Your family is sure to grow! The family that grills together, stays together! Appreciate the feedback!

Weber for Life!
Ann

02.26.17

David H

I knew there was a reason why I only use Weber grills and tools.

02.26.17

Ann Garrison

So happy you are a fan, David!

Weber for Life!
Ann

02.26.17

Gary H

Like Ann, I'm too late to the grilling scene to know the founder, but just think of the influence he has worldwide. In Europe, there are sections of Weber stores practically devoted to him--photographs, old American ads, and the like. All too often, at the peak of creative genius, we see the individuals pass away. So for the time that remains, grill on.

02.26.17

Ann Garrison

Thanks for the feedback, Gary! Fortunately for all of us, everyone around the world can enjoy his marvelous invention and all of the other innovations that continue within our company. It is amazing to think of where it all began, and where it has gone!

Weber for Life!
Ann

02.26.17

Donald F

George and his family lived across the street from my father's best friend, Stan Deming. I think for a period of time, George was a member of Elgin Country Club where my father and Stan Deming played as I recall him on the practice range being less than happy with his golf swing. We lived on Elmhurst Avenue just down the street from St. Raymond's. In the early 60's we got one of George's grills. I do not know if Stan Deming brought it over or if it was George. That grill sat out on our patio, largely uncovered until it became necessary for my mom to move to an assisted living facility in 1999. When we sold the house, we left the Weber Grill on the patio, and while a little worse for wear after 39 years of Mt Prospect summers and winters, it was still perfectly serviceable. The Weber company and the Weber story is a great company and a great story. Happy Birthday, George.

02.26.17

Ann Garrison

Thanks for sharing your great story of your veteran kettle that just “kept on cookin’”! This is a tribute to the great product George invented. BTW - It would have been fun to watch George’s golf swing……….. from behind a large bush!

Grill on!
Ann

08.22.16

dick y

Great story about George Stephen, I worked with Mike Kempster at a neighborhood Hardware Store in Kansas City in the early 60's and I know we hated to see Mike go to Chicago to work for George, but our loss has proved to be Webers gain. You have a wonderful product and spectacular company, thanks.

Dick

08.22.16

Ann Garrison

Thanks for the feedback, Dick! You are right -- Mike has truly been a huge part of the Weber story and our success…….and he is still here! I will let him know we heard from you…………I am sure he will remember you! Thanks for being a loyal fan! Grill On!

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