In December 1985 the boyish visage of Houston’s reigning retail mogul, Robert Sakowitz, stared out from the cover of Texas Monthly, his mischievous smile and famous vertical dimples betraying little of the trouble he and his company were in. But the headline next to his face referred to his “fraying empire,” and was it ever apt. For most of the century the Sakowitz family’s eponymous specialty stores had served shoppers across Texas, yet a few months earlier, reeling from the oil bust and buried under a mountain of debt, Sakowitz, Inc., had filed for federal bankruptcy protection. Two and a half years later, the eighteen-store chain was gobbled up by Australian conglomerate L. J. Hooker, and 2 years after that, Hooker itself went into provisional liquidation (tantamount to bankruptcy). In the summer of 1990—88 years after Tobias and Simon Sakowitz opened the first Sakowitz Brothers, on Market Street in Galveston—the last Sakowitz store closed its doors.
Where is Bobby Sakowitz today? Still in Houston, and still smiling. A decade after he reluctantly relinquished control of the business that made him a household name, he has refashioned himself as a retail power of a different sort. At 59, Sakowitz is the CEO and president of Hazak Corporation, a consulting firm whose mission is to help companies big and small help themselves. (“Hazak” is Hebrew for “be strong”; the firm’s logo, an H with two outstretched arms holding up a line, symbolizes a pledge of support.) Drawing on his many years of experience, he advises clients like Saks Fifth Avenue and IKEA about everything from store layouts and merchandise mix to advertising and marketing. “I’m a business doctor,” he says. “Some businesses I work with are doing extremely well but are so preoccupied with the trees that they don’t have time to see the forest. Others are