William R. Anixter was an executive in the wire and cable products distribution field who in 1957 co-founded a forerunner to Glenview-based distribution giant Anixter International.
"He had no pretensions about him at all," said former Highland Park Mayor Ray Geraci, who oversaw advertising at Anixter for more than a quarter century. "I really feel the thing that distinguished Bill the most was that he was a people person and was really down to earth. He was a character who socialized with everybody."
Anixter, 92, died of complications from a fever May 8 at a retirement community in Arizona, said his nephew, Jim. He had divided his time between homes in Winnetka and Arizona for many years, but recently moved full time into a retirement community in Arizona.
Born in Chicago and raised on the West Side, Anixter attended the now-shuttered Western Military Academy in downstate Alton for high school. He served in the Army during World War II and attended Northwestern University on the GI Bill before going to work as a sales representative at Thor Corp.
Anixter and his brother, Alan, started Anixter Bros. in 1957. Each pitched in $5,000 that they borrowed in part from their mother, Zelda. The firm went public in 1967 and by 1982, sales exceeded $500 million. The company had a broad reach as the leading nationwide independent distributor of wire and cable. William Anixter was executive vice president and Alan, who died in 2005, was president.
"They had a vision where they created (an industry) called wire and cable specialists," Jim Anixter said. "A lot of people were stocking building cable, but they were the B, C and D products, and founded a whole new industry. They were like the godfathers of the wire and cable distribution specialists (industry)."
"They were Amazon before Amazon existed, the first real-time inventory hub-and-spoke distribution network in the country," said his daughter Julie.
In 1986, with Anixter Bros. generating more than $700 million in sales, the brothers decided to sell the company to Sam Zell's Chicago-based Itel Corp., which later changed its name to Anixter Inc. and then to Anixter International.
Several years later, William Anixter left the firm and joined his nephew's Northbrook-based firm, AZ Wire and Cable, where he served as its board chairman. He never retired.
Around the office, Geraci said that Anixter was "something out of Damon Runyon."
"When he said, 'Hey pal,' he meant it," Geraci said. "His door was always open to everyone. He was fantastic."
Anixter was a founding member of Briarwood Country Club in Deerfield. He also of was a member of the board of the Armand Hammer United World College in New Mexico and the Foundation for the Boys and Girls Club of Scottsdale, Ariz.
Anixter's first wife, Barbara, died in 1967. He is survived by his second wife, Nancy; two sons; Greg and Jason; three other daughters; Carol, Amy Anixter Scott and Mari; and seven grandchildren.