NEW YORK — Herbert L. Seegal, a president and chief operating officer of the former R.H. Macy & Co. through most of the Seventies who nurtured a breed of star Macy merchants known as “the young turks,” died early Tuesday morning at Lenox Hill Hospital here.
His second wife, Juanita C. Seegal, said her husband died after a bout with bilateral pneumonia. He was 89.
“My husband was a very tough man. He didn’t have to be loved. But, boy, did he make merchants out of everybody,” said his wife.
Among the merchants that Seegal brought up through the ranks was Edward Finkelstein, the legendary Macy’s chairman and chief executive officer, who elevated Macy’s into the pantheon of retailing through innovative merchandising, a flair for special events and expansion strategies, but leveraged the company into bankruptcy in 1992. Two years later, Macy’s was acquired by Federated Department Stores and rescued from bankruptcy.
The Boston-born Seegal is also credited with developing other Macy stars, including Mark Handler, who rose to president of the Macy corporation and was Finkelstein’s right-hand man, as well as Philip Schlein, who ran the Macy’s California division, and Robert Friedman, who once ran the New Jersey-based Bamberger’s division of Macy’s and currently runs Loehmann’s. Bamberger’s and Macy’s California were eventually folded into what are now called Macy’s East and Macy’s West. While president, Seegal reported to the late Don Smiley.
Prior to serving as president and chief operating officer from 1972 to 1980, Seegal was ceo of Bamberger’s from 1965 to 1971. He began his career in retailing with R.H. White’s in Boston in 1937, which at the time was affiliated with Filene’s. He shifted to Thalhimer’s in Richmond, Va., as an assistant buyer, rose to vice president and general merchandise manager, and in 1953 joined Macy’s as senior vice president and general merchandise manager for men’s, women’s, children’s, shoes, accessories and intimate apparel.
After leaving Macy’s, Seegal became a consultant for major retailers around the world, including Tokyu in Japan, Selfridges in England and Coles-Myer in Australia. “He did it for 16 years. He was always very motivated. He was very well respected. That’s why he was requested to turn around these big chains. He did the right thing for the business. He was a serious and direct man.”
Seegal also served on several boards of directors, including Remington, Jonathan Logan, Midatlantic National Bank, Lenox, and New Jersey Bell Telephone. He resided on Central Park South.
His wife added that in keeping with her husband’s private nature, there will be no funeral or memorial service. In addition to his wife, Seegal is survived by two daughters, Jane Laura Seegal and Norma Ann Seegal.