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10 Questions for Todd Figi, Board President, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Born and raised in Wisconsin, Figi received his bachelor’s degree in business from Carroll College. In 1969, he started The Butcher The Baker Candlers. Figi merged the company with another in the gift industry in 1973 and moved it to San Diego.

In 1975, he changed the name to Figi Giftware and built it into one of the nation’s leading gift companies, selling to more than 15,000 Hallmark card shops, gift shops, department stores and other retail outlets. Figi Giftware also sold products to exclusive distributors in more than 40 foreign countries. In 1998, Figi sold the company to an investment banking firm and retired to collect art.

In 2003, Figi joined the Board of Trustees at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. He was elected president of the board in July 2007.

Q: What brought you to La Jolla?

When I merged my company with a San Diego company, I was still manufacturing in Wisconsin. Within weeks of the merger, I came out for new product design meetings. It was the middle of winter, I was 29 years old and never married. I landed at Lindbergh Field, palm trees lined the runway and there were more pretty girls on one corner than in the entire town where I was living. You can imagine the rest. It took one year to move the company to the old Simon Levy building on the corner of Seventh Avenue and J Street downtown. I had found heaven. I always said I wanted to live where other people vacationed.
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Q: What makes La Jolla special to you?

I love La Jolla because it lacks pretense. You can walk down the street and hear English, Spanish, French, German, Italian being spoken, and everyone is friendly and casual. I collect palm trees and art, love the ocean, great food and wine – it is all here in this little village. Men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s aren’t trying to look like they are in their 30s and 40s. The La Jollans are real, educated, interesting, from an extraordinary variety of backgrounds and friendly.

Q: If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in La Jolla?

All the utility poles and lines would be underground, Ted Geisel would be alive and working on a new book and Jurgenson’s would be back with all the local businesses that have been lost.

Q: Who or what inspires you?

Creativity, hard work and those who practice both.

Q: If you hosted a dinner party for eight, who (living or deceased) would you invite?

I would have a Surrealist Dinner Party. Invitees would be many of the surrealist artists we collect and whom I never had the opportunity to meet due to their passing many years ago. The dinner would consist of recipes from the Salvador Dali cookbook and after dinner we would play Cadaver Exquis, one of their favorite games. Roberto Matta, Salvador Dali, Wifredo Lam, Frida Kahlo, Andre Breton, Julian Levy (gallerist), Kit and Karen Sickels.
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Q: Tell us about what you are currently reading.

Jake and I just returned from a trip to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. We went there to see their current exhibit, “Cuba, Art and History From 1868 to Today.” I am reading the 412-page exhibition catalog. We collect books on all the artists we collect and I am constantly reading and re-reading them.

Q: What is your most prized possession?

She is not a possession but, first, my wife Jake. Next, our dogs Niki and Guapo.

Then, a 1939 Psychological Morphology painting by Roberto Matta

Q: What do you do for fun?

Everything we do is fun. Since I sold my company 10 years ago, my motto is, “If it isn’t fun, I am not doing it.” Travel, spend time in Aspen, ski, collect art, eat great food, drink great wine – all with friends.

Q: Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

Since I have never had children, my greatest accomplishment, I believe, was starting as a hippie with an idea and building it into one of the largest, most creative and respected gift companies in the country.

Q: What is your motto or philosophy of life?

If you see something you want, an idea you want to pursue, go for it. My motto in business was “go for the throat, but play it close to the chest.” Give it all you have got. You can do anything you decide.

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