“Let that be a lesson to you,” he recalled his father telling him. “Don’t ever give up.”
Peter’s path to Safeway was indirect. He earned a bachelor’s degree in American literature at Stanford University and a master’s in politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University in England before finishing two years of undergraduate work at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Baltimore. But his education, and two summers at the State Department, did not provide the direction he wanted.
So he went to work for Safeway, where he was a checker, shelf stocker and produce clerk before being given greater responsibility as a store manager, district manager, retail operations manager and regional vice president. At 37, he became Safeway’s chairman and chief executive.
In an incident that became central to Mr. Magowan’s tenure at Safeway, he fended off a hostile takeover bid in 1986 from the Dart Group Corporation by agreeing to a $4.25 billion leveraged buyout from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company. The buyout left Safeway’s management in place but saddled the company with enormous debt; it eventually eliminated 63,000 jobs.
“It was tough on all the workers, including me,” he told The Chronicle in 2003. “We went through a lot of stress.”
Mr. Magowan is survived by his wife, Deborah (Johnston) Magowan; his daughters, Kimberley Wagner, Margot Garvin, Hilary Malko and Kristen Butt; a son, Matthew Cook; 13 grandchildren; and his brothers, Robin, Merrill and Mark. His first marriage, to Jill Tarlau, ended in divorce.
While Mr. Magowan described the acquisition of Barry Bonds, who broke Major League Baseball’s career home run record as a Giant, as his best business decision, suspicions that Bonds used steroids have shadowed him and the team for years. When questioned by George J. Mitchell, the former United States senator who was investigating the use of performance-enhancing drugs for Major League Baseball, Mr. Magowan said Bonds had told him he had taken substances that he later learned were illegal.