SIGGI WILZIG’S MOST IMPORTANT FEAT -SURVIVAL. BUT FAR FROM HIS LAST! A RAINBOW OF ROLE MODELS {WEDNESDAY SERIES}

I celebrate ACHIEVEMENT EVERY DAY!  WEDNESDAY’S “A Rainbow of Role Models”  Series demonstrates role models come in ALL races, genders, ages, and titles.  “There is dignity, in achievement and success—in becoming, a great factor in civilization.” Carter G. Woodson. 

I hope you will share these short articles; perhaps a few people will be curious to learn more.

READERS ASKED HOW I SELECT MY RAINBOW OF ROLE MODELS 

I hope from the series title, you realize I do not care about race, skin color, religion, sex, attractiveness (ok, I do like beautiful ladies), age, or any other nonsense.  I love learning about inspirational people that inspire me to drop MY EXCUSES and JUST DO IT! Role models who stretch my ambitions and model GIVING BACK!  Thank you for asking. 

IMPACTING PEOPLE

Disclaimer: Good Day, Readers.  WealthBuildingPowers blog is a financial literacy/competency blog and does not provide specific investment recommendations.  

SURVIVING  AUSCHWITZ WAS SIGGI WILZIG’S FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT FEAT BEFORE BECOMING  A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS LEADER. – A RAINBOW OF ROLE MODELS {WEDNESDAY SERIES}

  • Built two sleepy companies into competitive behemoths.
  • Overcame: Need to grow but keep present customers happy.
  • Lesson: “The best piece of new business is to keep the old business. If you lose your old loyal customers, you’ll never make it up. It will take you 30 new $1 million customers to compensate for the loss of one $30 million customer.”
SIGGI WILZIG

SIGGI WILZIG USED HIS SMARTS TO DEFEAT DEATH AND WENT ON TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS! succeed in business.  SURVIVING  AUSCHWITZ WAS SIGGI WILZIG’S FIRST AND MORE IMPORTANT FEAT BEFORE BECOMING  A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS LEADER.

Siggi B. Wilzig was chairman and CEO of a New York Stock Exchange-listed oil company. He also grew a small New Jersey commercial bank into a $4 billion behemoth. But simply surviving remained one of his greatest accomplishments.

He lived through two years as a prisoner at Auschwitz and then Mauthausen concentration camps, two death marches and the pain of losing 59 members of his family in the Holocaust. When American forces found him, he weighed just 90 pounds.

With that background weighing on him, how could Wilzig (1926-2003) possibly move forward? “It’s tempting to say he honed his survival skills and brought those skills to bear in his life and business,” said Joshua M. Greene, author of “Unstoppable: The Unbelievable True Story of Siggi B. Wilzig’s Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend.” “He had learned to think like an adult at a very early age,” Greene said.

And to that one might add good instincts and confidence. Surviving the concentration camps convinced him he could do anything he set his mind to.

WARREN BUFFETT

Survive Tough Odds Like Siggi Wilzig

When he arrived at Auschwitz, soldiers asked Wilzig his age and occupation. He said he was 18 and a master toolmaker. Both lies, but both saved his life. Anyone under 18 was marked to die and toolmaking was a valued profession for an army in need of supplies.

Every time he heard about a job that might possibly make his life easier, he claimed expertise and volunteered. Once, working as a nurse at a prison hospital, he heard the Nazis were looking to train carpenters. Unsure if he should apply, he asked the prisoner doctor he worked with for advice.

“I can’t tell you what to do. It could be just as bad over there (where the training was conducted) or worse. You’re a smart fellow. Follow your instincts,” the doctor said. Wilzig followed that advice for the rest of his life.

Wilzig: Find A Path Forward

Liberated in 1945, Wilzig spent two years working for the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps. He helped capture Maj. Gen. Hans Goebbels, brother of Reich Minister Joseph. His work there earned him passage to the U.S. Wilzig arrived Dec. 12, 1947 with just $240 in his pocket.

He worked a variety of jobs, starting with shoveling the snow that fell shortly after his arrival. Wilzig also tried sales. By the early 1960s, he was married with children and doing well enough to invest in the stock market.

At a party, he met Sol Diamond, a retired New York Stock Exchange member. Diamond took a liking to Wilzig and told him about the Wilshire Oil Company of Texas.

“Wilshire had slipped from its leading position in the mid-20th Century to becoming another sleepytime company run by an aging all-white male, non-Jewish board of directors more interested in collecting the proceeds from the business than from trying to grow the business,” Greene said.

Wilzig impressed Diamond “as having a lot of energy and a lot of moxie,” Greene added. The young Wilzig didn’t have oil company experience. But Diamond — who felt he was too old to lead a takeover himself — told him, “I’ll help you and guide you.”

Wilzig had been waiting for this kind of opportunity since he arrived in the States — and “he ran with it,” Greene said.

Aggressively Build Your Stake

It took a couple of years, but by 1965 Wilzig, his family, friends, and Diamond accumulated 20% of the limited shares traded. They ultimately won four seats on the board — and an opportunity to present his proposals.

They can be summed up in two words: Be aggressive. Those ideas were radical, at least for Wilshire Oil. But they made sense. The board was impressed. The company followed his advice. It also named him president of the company. And later that year, when the CEO unexpectedly died, Wilzig took over as CEO.

Follow Your Strategy Like Wilzig

When Wilzig started, Wilshire posted a nine-month loss of $500,000 on sales of $1.3 million. He aggressively purchased additional acreage and increased drilling.

By 1970, profits jumped to $700,000 on sales of $9 million. In 1971 revenue jumped to $13 million. Two years later, Wilshire had a stake in 700 wells and 80,000 acres of oil fields. Profit hit $4 million while revenue increased to $22 million. In 1975, with revenues of over $29 million the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Part of that increase was due to smart acquisitions.

Ultimately, his largest was the Trust Company of New Jersey (TCNJ). Wilshire began acquiring the company’s shares in 1968. In many ways, it replicated the situation with Wilshire.

TCNJ was a sleepy company that slipped from its position as the second largest bank in New Jersey in the 1920s to the 21st in 1967. It had only 13 branches. They were old and had no drive-through service. But Wilzig saw its potential.

By 1971, Wilshire had acquired over 50% of TCNJ shares. Wilzig took over as chair and CEO of that company, too. As he did with the oil company, he started an aggressive policy of expansion and modernization.

Wilzig liked to call TCNJ the bank with the heart. He changed stodgy interiors to make them more customer friendly. He added plush chairs. And he removed bars from the teller windows. Branch openings became events, and customers were made to feel welcome.

“Other banks pay 100 cents on the dollar, just like my bank does, and their money is just as green,” Wilzig said. “The only difference between the other banks and my banks is superior customer service.”

Put Customers First

He treated his customers like royalty. He’d visit their place of business and act more like a management consultant than banker. He’d analyze their business and find ways it could be improved. Wilzig didn’t have a traditional education. But he was a voracious reader. As a result, he often studied problems from unusual, nontraditional angles and found innovative ways to solve or get around them.

His oldest son Ivan told Investor’s Business Daily his senses were “so fine-tuned he could tell whether a person was telling him the truth when applying for a loan. It took him just five minutes to tell if he was (lying). And that contributed to an extremely low rate of foreclosures.”

Sometimes the FDIC wanted TCNJ to write off a loan as an unpaid debt. Wilzig refused saying, “This isn’t a bad loan. This is a good customer who hit a bad season. The FDIC doesn’t know what it’s talking about.”

He expected loyalty from his customers — that is, all their business — and offered it in return. When the bank opened a new branch, it purchased furnishings from companies that had accounts with TCNJ. He referred customers to customers.

Be A Good Boss Like Wilzig

Wilzig got his employees to buy in by being a benevolent — and generous — boss. He gave stock options to entry-level administrative employees and secretaries.

“After having suffered so many horrible indignities at the hands of the Nazis, he was so grateful to have survived he made it a point to treat his employees well. If an employee wasn’t feeling well, he’d have his driver take him to a doctor. When he sold a subsidiary, he made sure none of his people were laid off,” Greene said.

Wilzig looked for other points of view. He once asked his physician to join the TCNJ board. But he refused, saying he had no expertise. “We’ve already got the Wharton Business School types,” Wilzig told him. “They have answers for everything. I want someone like you who knows how to ask the questions.”

At the time, non-banking companies were not allowed to own banks. So in 1982, Wilshire divested its holdings in TCNJ. Wilzig continued to run the bank. During his tenure there (1971-2002), the bank’s assets jumped from $181 million to $4 billion. North Fork Bank, since acquired, purchased TCNJ in 2003 for $726 million.

Talk about a happy ending!

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Siggi Wilzig’s Top Feat Wasn’t His 2 Companies | Investor’s Business Daily

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ABOUT ME

I am a proud nerd (as my beautiful wife and daughter have told me) investment and finance blogger with an N.C. State, Chemical Engineering, University Rutgers, MBA and Harvard University, Advanced Management education.

I left a corporate career because I desired to make a difference as a speaker and writer. I was blessed to be coached and mentored by strong women and men in my family and professional life.  It is my time to serve and give back.

DISCLAIMER

I started my first business at ~13 years of age (a small but brilliantly created plant nursery). I am a successful investor in stocks, options, and real estate and am happy to share my finance and investment lessons.  I am NOT a licensed financial advisor.  Please do not construe my suggestions on this blog as recommendations for your situation. As an investor, you must establish your risk/loss tolerance. Investment in any asset involves risk, including complete loss. 

 Please seek your licensed CPA or fiduciary financial advisors for individual financial advice.  

I write this weekly blog to make an impact by reaching an audience and demonstrating the need for financial literacy. I will help you get there.

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Powers Investments Management, LLC

This blog will provide, information and simple strategies, that will assist you to achieve YOUR financial objectives and long term targets. For over 30 years, I solved multi-million dollar problems, for Fortune 10-250, companies. My formal education includes: Business, Finance and Chemical Engineering {Problem Solving} at: Harvard, Rutgers and North Carolina State. And an additional 30+ years, managing my family’s investment decisions. I currently manage/advise people with net-worths ranging from the tens of thousands to several million dollars.

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