Media Guru

John Barnes Sias, '49

January/February 2016

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Media Guru

Photo: Courtesy Sias Family

A media executive who embraced the dawning of the Internet despite its impact on print publishing, John Sias was also a prankster who was known to wear Captain America T-shirts under his suits and blast a ship's horn to enliven employees. Sias served as president and CEO of the Chronicle Publishing Co. in San Francisco and in 1995 launched SFGate.com, the nation's first regional website to incorporate both newspaper and television content.

John Barnes Sias, '49, died August 23 at his home in Houston. He was 88.

A native Californian, Sias attended high school in Marin County. He then enrolled at the Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, where, according to his son Bill, his pranks earned him numerous demerits. He volunteered for the Army and was sent to Newfoundland as part of a pilot rescue team that jumped from planes with sled dogs in preparation for an invasion of Japan that never came to pass.

After the war, Sias returned to California and finished his economics degree at Stanford in just two years. He enrolled at Stanford Law School but quickly determined that law was not the profession for him. Instead, he launched a career in media, selling airtime to advertisers in San Francisco before moving to New York. There, he eventually became the executive vice president of Metro Media and was hired as publisher of Women's Wear Daily, part of Fairchild Communications. Capital Cities, a media holding company, bought Fairchild in 1968, and Sias became executive vice president. In 1985, Capital Cities purchased ABC and promoted Sias to president in charge of all operations, including ABC News.

When he turned 67, the mandatory retirement age at ABC, Sias left the company. But before long he was asked to take over Chronicle Publishing, publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle, making him the first non-family member to run the company founded in 1865. Sias piloted the Chronicle through an 11-day newspaper strike in 1994, sold the company's television station, KRON, to Young Broadcasting Co. in 1999 and managed the sale of the newspaper to its current owner, Hearst Corp., in 2000.

An avid outdoorsman and fly fisherman, Sias served on the national board of the Nature Conservancy as well as on the boards of the California Investment Trust and the Stanford Alumni Association.

"I learned so many things from my father," Bill Sias said, "but first and foremost, he proved to me that if you work hard, you can accomplish anything; he was a self-made man who succeeded due to simple hard work."

Sias was predeceased by his daughter Helena Sias Witte, MBA '81. He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Lucretia; sons, Donald and Bill; daughter Lucretia; and seven grandchildren.

Julie Muller Mitchell, '79, is a writer in San Francisco.

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