Wayne M. Hoffman dies at 89; air cargo entrepreneur

Wayne M. Hoffman, the retired chairman of Tiger International, the Century City-based parent company of the Flying Tiger Line, which was once the world's largest air cargo carrier, has died. He was 89.

Hoffman died Saturday of natural causes at his home in Indian Wells, said Nissen Davis, a family friend.

A former railroad attorney who rose to become executive vice president of the New York Central Railroad, Hoffman was recruited to become chairman of the Flying Tiger Line in 1967.

The airline was founded in 1945 by Robert W. Prescott and other former American Volunteer Group fighter pilots known as the Flying Tigers who flew combat missions in China against the Japanese before the United States entered World War II.

Although primarily devoted to cargo, the Flying Tiger Line also had contract operations with the U.S. military.

"Hoffman brought transportation management knowledge to Flying Tigers," said Joseph Healy, a former executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Flying Tiger Line.

Through Hoffman's leadership, Healy said, "we became a well-managed airline."

"We weren't self-sustaining in freight until Hoffman came, and we started to grow at 25% a year in freight," said Healy. "Freight became the cornerstone revenue producer of the airline under Wayne Hoffman's direction."

Between 1968 and '78, "the airline grew from about $76 million gross revenue to a half billion," Healy said.

Once described in the New York Times as blunt and informal, Hoffman co-founded the holding company Tiger International Inc. in 1970.

"He wanted a multi-modal transportation organization, not just an airline," said Davis, former vice president of public relations for Flying Tiger Line. "He also wanted them to go into trucking, rail transportation and other facets of the cargo industry."

Tiger International grew to $2.5 billion in revenue, Davis said. But, according to a 1985 Los Angeles Times article, its fortunes began to slide in the early '80s because of the recession and rising fuel prices and interest rates.

Hoffman retired as chairman in 1986 but continued to serve as a consultant for Tiger International, which was purchased by Federal Express in 1989.

After retiring to Indian Wells, Hoffman served on the board of the Eisenhower Medical Center, the McCallum Theatre and the Palm Springs Aerospace Museum.

Born in Chicago on March 9, 1923, Hoffman attended the University of Illinois before serving in the Army during World War II. He was a second lieutenant when he landed at Normandy on D-Day with the 1st Infantry Division. By war's end, he had risen to the rank of captain and had received a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.

After receiving his law degree from the University of Illinois in 1947, he worked in the legal department of the Illinois Central Railroad for four years. He then joined the legal department of the New York Central in Chicago and became assistant to the president of the railroad in 1958.

Hoffman is survived by Laura, his wife of 66 years; his children, Philip Hoffman, Karen Embree and Kristin Dwyer; eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 11:30 a.m. April 10 at Forest Lawn, 69855 E. Ramon Road, Cathedral City.