Alumni Success StoriesMike Singer, B.S. '84
Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year - 1997
Years before he became chairman and CEO of Strategic Partners, Inc., it could have been predicted that Michael Singer would be a successful leader. He showed leadership through all the stages of his academic career as president of the student body in junior high, his high school and then as president of the student senate at USC.
While a sophomore orientation advisor at USC in 1982, Mike started his first publishing business – Totally Awesome - The 1983 Girls of the Valley Calendar.
After graduating, Mike joined with an entrepreneur who was interested in developing a national newspaper for college students. During the next two years Mike researched the collegiate publishing market, wrote a business plan and developed the prototype of U. The National College Newspaper. The publication was launched in February 1987 – 1.4 million copies were distributed to 400 campuses nationwide.
A third partner, who had experience editing daily newspapers, was brought in as Publisher and became Mike’s new boss. A combination of differing management styles and incompatible visions led to Singer leaving the venture. The magazine is still being published today.
Shortly thereafter, Mike became national sales administrator for an apparel and footwear manufacturer, Cherokee, Inc. A year later he took over Cherokee’s small uniform division, beginning with a half time customer service representative and a small sales force. Over the next five years, Mike built a management team and grew the uniform division more than 485% achieving a minimum of 35% growth per year. During the same period, the parent company, Cherokee Inc., saddled with tremendous debt from a late 80’s junk bond leveraged buyout, went through two Chapter 11 bankruptcies and an almost 75% reduction in sales volume.
Following the second bankruptcy, Mike made an offer to buy the uniform division. He formed a new corporation, Strategic Partners, Inc. (SPI), becoming the largest shareholder. In July 1995, he completed the $12.2 million purchase through a combination of equity and debt financing.
During SPI’s first year, Mike launched a footwear division after purchasing Cherokee’s "Rockers" footwear brand name with its unique patented out-sole. Footwear is now the fastest growing division of the company. He also launched a new school uniform line for children, capitalizing on the nationwide school uniform trend. SPI’s medical division created its own unique characters on uniforms for pediatric departments and also licensed properties such as Baby Looney Tunes and Peanuts, which have brought a new dimension to apparel for medical workers. Largely as a result of these additions, SPI doubled its volume in a mere two years.
"Being separated from U. was devastating. It was my baby. But it was the best thing that ever happened to me. First, it brought home the USC Program’s sound advice ‘Never fall in love with your product.’ I now make it a point to aggressively attack our best products and replace them before the competition does. Secondly it made me realize how much potential businesses lose because they fail to keep their best people. One of my most important functions as CEO of Strategic Partners is to create and maintain an environment that keeps people happy and challenged. SPI’s most valuable asset is our management team, who are owners of the company."
"USC’s Entrepreneur Program taught me that entrepreneurship is a discipline that can be learned and practiced. The program provides an invaluable framework, filled with a wealth of great ideas and insights, for anyone who wants to start, buy or run a business."