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Profiles of Newly Hired Boss and Fired Boss : Elizabeth A. Sanders is a 10-year Karcher director and helps run several major firms. She rose from Nordstrom clerk to general manager.

October 02, 1993|SUSAN CHRISTIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Elizabeth A. Sanders, elected in a dramatic corporate shake-up to fill the shoes of one of Orange County's best-known entrepreneurs, is no stranger to the boardroom.

Not only has she logged 10 years as a director for Carl Karcher Enterprises Inc., where she replaced company founder Carl N. Karcher as chairman Friday, Sanders also serves on the boards of several other publicly held companies: discount retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc., grocery chain the Vons Cos., sporting goods store Sport Chalet Inc., and savings and loan H.F. Ahmanson & Co., the parent of Home Savings of America.

But the biggest entry on Sanders' resume is her 19-year career with Nordstrom Inc., where she reigned as vice president and general manager from 1980 until 1990.

"She is a fabulous and incredibly focused leader," said Jammie Baugh, who assumed Sanders' post at Nordstrom after her departure. "She has a rare talent of making you feel like you are the only person in the world when she talks to you."

Sanders, 48, rose from a sales clerk in Seattle to become a top executive with the department store chain. In 1978, as store manager, she helped open the Nordstrom store in glitzy South Coast Plaza--the company's first venture into Southern California.

"We were scared of the tremendous competition down here," Sanders said in a 1984 interview. "Given the incredible number of stores already fighting for shoppers, we honestly worried if we could make it."

The concern was for naught. Nordstrom prospered here as the fastest-growing department store chain in the 1980s.

As vice president, Sanders was responsible for 11,000 employees at 13 Nordstrom stores and four Nordstrom Rack close-out centers in Southern California. She left the company in the middle of a labor dispute in which clerks claimed they were forced to work overtime without extra pay.

But Sanders said she quit Nordstrom for personal reasons--in part, to devote more time to her then-5-year-old daughter, Allison.

She and her husband, Sandy, now live in Sutter Creek, near Sacramento, where Sanders works out of her home as a management consultant. They also have two adult children.

Sanders--who answers to Betsy--and Karcher met while volunteering together for the Orange County chapter of the United Way. Like Karcher, she is active in the Catholic Church, a commonality that cemented their friendship.

Karcher asked her to join the board in 1983, and a decade later Sanders is still its newest member--with the exception of Donald E. Doyle Jr., recruited as president and chief executive officer late last year.

Open and engaging, Sanders is known for her personal as well as business skills. "Generally, busy people who have a lot of things going on at once can be impatient and distracted," Baugh said. "But she has the unique ability to focus so intensely during a conversation that, even if you've only had five minutes with her, you walk away feeling that she was extremely interested in whatever it is you had to say."

Sanders hired Baugh as a buyer for the South Coast Plaza store in 1978, and became her inspiration and friend over the years. "She's the sort of person who makes you think, 'Gee, I want to be like her,' " Baugh said.

William Jacoby, chairman and chief executive of National Bank of Southern California in Newport Beach--where Sanders served as a board member for eight years until 1991--also had high praise for her.

"She's extremely bright and personable," Jacoby said. "She always had excellent ideas."

Jacoby said that Sanders' main interest as a bank director was customer relations. "She helped to develop personnel policies and training and motivation programs for employees to deliver good customer service," he said.

Sanders got swept up in the controversy surrounding her old friend Karcher when he demanded that the Karcher Enterprises board approve his plan to test the sales of Green Burrito Mexican-style food at several Carl's Jr. restaurants. Although voted out as chairman, Karcher remains as a member on the seven-person board.

"We have had to step aside from our friendship with Carl and look at what's best for the business," Sanders said in an interview last month. "This is a publicly held company, and we have to act in the interest of all shareholders."

Times staff writer James S. Granelli contributed to this report.

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