Corporate turnaround expert Sanford C. Sigoloff, credited with leading ailing companies such as Wickes Cos. out of bankruptcy but criticized by many as a tough-as-nails boss, has died. He was 80.
Sigoloff died of complications from pneumonia Saturday with his family by his side at his Brentwood home. He also had Alzheimer’s disease.
Sigoloff, whose stern voice and lean figure were familiar to millions of Southern Californians from his “We got the message, Mr. Sigoloff” television commercials for Wickes’ now-defunct Builders Emporium chain, was an ace at salvaging debt-laden companies. In addition to Wickes, he helped resuscitate Los Angeles-based companies Republic Corp., a conglomerate, and Daylin Inc., a retailer, in the 1970s.
At Wickes, Sigoloff brought the company out of Chapter 11 in 1985, in a relatively speedy three years during which he and his managers often worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week. They transformed it from a retailer to a diversified consumer and industrial products company.
Sigoloff earned the nickname “Mr. Chapter 11" and called himself the “toughest man in retailing” and “Ming the Merciless,” after a villain in the Flash Gordon serial.
But Michael Sitrick, a former executive at Wickes who worked for Sigoloff, recalled a generous businessman who sympathized with the workers he had to lay off and employees who had to work long hours.
When a struggling Wickes was forced to close its mail-order business, Sigoloff flew to Chicago where the division was headquartered to personally thank departing employees, said Sitrick, who now runs a high-profile Century City public relations firm. Sigoloff also took out ads to help them find new jobs and fought with creditors to increase their severance packages.
“The real irony is anyone who knew Sandy knew he was the antithesis of Ming the Merciless,” Sitrick said. “He was very caring; he was very, very compassionate.”
Bill Mallory, who worked with Sigoloff for more than 20 years, said Sigoloff was a confident leader “and that probably rubbed people the wrong way.”
“There were rumors that he was a tough guy,” Mallory said. “But he was just a good businessman and a great guy. I think it came from his ability to ask direct questions from his employees. He didn’t beat around the bush.”
On his own time, Sigoloff enjoyed working on his Porsche collection and especially liked searching for car parts from around the world. “It’s like putting together a 100-piece, black-and-white puzzle. If you understand that, you understand me,” he once said. His other hobbies included photography and collecting antique clocks because “I’m a time watcher.”
Sanford C. Sigoloff was born Sept. 8, 1930, in St. Louis, where he unknowingly attended nursery school with his future wife, Betty. He graduated from Beverly Hills High School a year after his family moved to Los Angeles.
He graduated from UCLA in 1951 with degrees in physics and chemistry. He and Betty, who met at a party, were married in 1952.
Sigoloff donated to several causes, including the American Jewish Committee, City of Hope, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Center Theatre Group and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He also taught at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
“It wasn’t only big organizations that he gave to; he also helped people on the street,” his wife said. “For him, it was such a terrible thing for him to see somebody in need.”
In addition to his wife, Sigoloff is survived by two sons, John and Stephen; a daughter, Laurie; a sister, Roberta Silverman; and six grandchildren.
Memorial services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.