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Sandy Sigoloff: Private Man in the Limelight : Wickes Saved, He Focuses on Growth

August 18, 1985|NANCY YOSHIHARA | Times Staff Writer

When Sandy Sigoloff attended the recent opening of the Treasury of San Marco exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, he was suffering from jet lag after a business trip. So the chairman and chief executive of Wickes Cos. decided to head for the bar and order a Perrier. As he approached, the bartender gasped, "Oh, my God, he is really here!"

"I looked around," Sigoloff recalled, "but he was talking about me."

Wherever Sanford C. Sigoloff goes these days, he gets recognized. His appearances as a TV spokesman for Wickes' Builders Emporium unit have made him a national--and even international--celebrity. Strangers call out to him, "We got the message, Mr. Sigoloff," the advertising slogan for Builders Emporium.

The television commercials have thrust the very private Sigoloff into the limelight. "I try to be courteous with people, but quick," Sigoloff says. "I used to be self-conscious when people would stare at me. Now, I just smile back."

The young-looking, impeccably groomed Sigoloff has only grudgingly appeared in the commercials, even though customer surveys and sales show him to be an effective spokesman. "I acknowledge the first round (of results), but it is still difficult," he says of making the commercials. "I'm not an actor. . . . I'm not used to having 40 people watch me make a mistake."

Sigoloff's reputation has been built on highly complex corporate turnarounds. In less than three years, he pulled Santa Monica-based Wickes through a tough Chapter 11 reorganization. He had previously steered two other Los Angeles-based companies--Republic Corp., a conglomerate, and Daylin Inc., a retailer, through similar successful reorganizations in the 1970s.

The 54-year-old Sigoloff is now taking Wickes into a new phase, having repaid all of the company's $1.6-billion Chapter 11 debt with a combination of cash, notes and 80 million shares of new common stock.

Come Labor Day, when the company completes its recently announced $1-billion cash acquisition of the consumer and industrial products businesses of Gulf & Western Industries, Wickes expects its annual sales to double, to $6 billion.

The acquisition was announced only weeks after Sigoloff said that Wickes planned to make a purchase within a year. The speed and scope of the move--less than six months after the company's emergence from Chapter 11--are signs of a new direction for Sigoloff as well.

Some Sigoloff observers believe that he acted quickly to avoid what happened with both Republic and Daylin, which were snatched out from under him just as they were nursed back to health.

While Sigoloff was on the prowl for a company that Daylin could buy, W. R. Grace & Co. unexpectedly made a successful bid for Daylin. "Sandy has said he was too conservative," says Jeffrey Chanin, who worked with Sigoloff at both Daylin and Wickes and is now a corporate finance consultant at Drexel Burnham Lambert in Beverly Hills. "Management at Daylin was too conservative in terms of making an acquisition. . . . He certainly moved aggressively this time."

"This is, in a sense, a new field for him to conquer," says Edmund M. Kaufman, a senior partner at Century City law firm of Irell & Manella who has known Sigoloff for 20 years. "He hasn't had as much of a track record to make companies grow once they are out of bankruptcy."

Still others believe that Sigoloff simply needed a new business challenge. Sigoloff, who has committed himself to Wickes for at least the next five years, acknowledges that he gets bored easily.

"Someone said I'm the type of guy who would take a vacation on an island," Sigoloff says. "The first day I would survey it. The second day I would study all the seashells. The third day I would collect and sort out the seashells. By the fourth day, I would probably be bored."

He adds, "I've never run a $6-billion business. That's exciting, but meeting internal goals is going to be stressful."

Pace Finally Slowed

The tough 33 months it took to turn Wickes around was followed by a brief month and a half of quiet around the company's corporate headquarters in Santa Monica. Many of Wickes' executives took long-postponed vacations. Saturday meetings were suspended, and some office remodeling projects finally got under way.

But the pace has quickened with the expected conclusion of the G&W deal. Executives are running on tight schedules and Saturday meetings have resumed. Sigoloff says it was "psychologically best" for Wickes to proceed with the acquisition in the first year out of bankruptcy. "I wanted to do a major change in the first fiscal year.

"For the first time we're in the luxurious position of determining how fast we can grow.. . . It's probably a strange change, but it is exciting." Sigoloff, who earned $957,265 in salary and bonuses last year, admits the internal pressures are "from me, and, unfortunately, I am a perfectionist."

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