Book Review: Winners Make It Happen by Leonard Lavin

Alberto Culver's flagship product is VO5
I recently read Winners Make it Happen. The biography charts how Leonard Lavin engineered the rise of the Alberto-Culver into a global beauty products company. It's a story about innovation in a changing media landscape, but also of good old-fashioned tenacity

From the start, Lavin was able to combine innovative new products that customers would want, while exploiting the opportunity that was the arrival of television advertising. An early example of an innovative product that Lavin latched on to is the antiperspirant spray. Antiperspirant was only available only in cream form until then. Lavin realized that a "non mess" formulation would be attractive to consumers. However, the an innovative product was not enough.

The medium of the television offered an entirely new way for distributors to "get the word out" about products. As an early adopter of television advertising, Lavin was able to take advantage of this marketing innovation. Lavin says products would "fly off the shelves" the Monday following Sunday night's What's My Line show sponsored by the company. It was this effective marketing, combined with an innovative product, that led to blockbuster sales for Lavin.

Lavin also followed a growth strategy that has similarities to Kellogg's Levy Center's preference of buying already successful companies and mushrooming them. Initially distributing and marketing a product called Stopette, the first spray deodorant, Lavin exited when he felt a sense of mistrust developing in the relationship with his partner. He sought out new bigger and better opportunities. In this way, he and came across VO5.

Lavin's outstanding quality is the degree of his tenacity. Starting from a story as a child where he witnessed a famous baseball player place a wager against his own team, Lavin demonstrates again and again that the only person you can bet on is yourself. For example, in his early sales pursuits, when he visited stores to sell products, he would escalate his sales call to store buyers of greater seniority in the stores; he was adamant that he would get each sale. One of the initial investors in Lavin's acquisition of Alberto-Culver was someone he met at an airport. What started as a causal conversation later became meetings where each brought opportunities to each other. In the end, this became a business partnership.