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Leonard Lavin surrounded by SDSU's Lavin Entrepreneurs. Leonard Lavin surrounded by SDSU's Lavin Entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurial Management Center Named

Leonard Lavin, the retired chair of Alberto Culver, renews support for SDSU’s nationally ranked program.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

“There are no new tricks in our new economy,” declared entrepreneur Leonard Lavin in his 2004 autobiography, “only new men and women at the helm.”

Now hundreds of those aspiring CEOs will be better equipped for the course ahead thanks to Lavin’s major gift to San Diego State University.

Chair of Alberto Culver for 49 years, Lavin is a corporate trailblazer with a no-nonsense work ethic and a proven instinct for anticipating market demand. Since 2005 he has been actively involved with SDSU’s Entrepreneurial Management Center as a guest lecturer and mentor.

Lavin Entrepreneurship Center

The nationally ranked center is the anchor of SDSU’s entrepreneurship curriculum—featuring programs, workshops, internships, resources and events that help students translate their classroom learning into practice. The US News & World Report – Top 25 Graduate Schools for Entrepreneurs – has rated SDSU’s program to be among the best in the country.

Lavin’s endowment will rename the center as the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center and expand its scope with new programs such as a speakers series, an entrepreneur-in-residence program and a micro venture fund for student startups.

His gift increases support for The Campaign for SDSU to $360 million to date.  The university has embarked on an ambitious $500 million fundraising campaign with the goals of supporting students, faculty and programs and propelling SDSU into the ranks of the top public research universities.

“Leonard Lavin’s knowledge and insight have fueled the spirit of entrepreneurship across the San Diego State campus,” said Michael Cunningham, dean of the College of Business Administration. “This new and transformational gift will enhance our academic education, provide students with hands-on entrepreneurship opportunities and forever link our program with the Lavin corporate legacy.”

Remarkable rapport

Lavin’s autobiography, “Winners Make it Happen: Reflections of a Self-Made Man,” is required reading in entrepreneurship classes across the country.

But SDSU students are fortunate to have direct access to the source. The occasional lectures and mentoring sessions Lavin leads on campus attract crowds of students from all academic disciplines.

“Leonard has a remarkable rapport with young people,” said Alex DeNoble, professor of management and executive director of the Lavin Entrepreneur Center.

“As a mentor to students, he is both pragmatic and inspirational. As a supporter of SDSU, he knows precisely the tools and experiences our students need to achieve success.”

About Leonard Lavin

Lavin was born in Chicago in 1919 and grew up during the Great Depression. He served in eight decisive battles of World War II with the U.S. Navy.

At the age of 35, Lavin bought a regional beauty supply manufacturer and turned it into a market leader. The Alberto Culver Company became an international Fortune 1000 company with a presence in more than 100 countries and annual sales exceeding $3.5 billion.

Under Lavin’s direction, Alberto Culver developed products that remain leaders in their categories today. The company also seized upon the value of television advertising to sell products, and Lavin is credited with developing TV’s first 15- and 30-second commercials. Today, they are the broadcast standard.

Among Lavin’s many awards is an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree awarded him by SDSU in May 2012.

Ongoing support

In the last five years Lavin has supported SDSU by establishing two unique programs: Lavin VentureStart—a business plan competition open to students from all SDSU colleges—and the Lavin Entrepreneurs—a program for upper-division students, which provides individual mentoring; site visits to emerging growth companies; and an entrepreneur speaker series among other growth experiences.

Of the 68 Lavin entrepreneurs graduated since 2008, 10 have founded their own companies.

Among them are: Shake Smart, featured in Forbes magazine and specializing in protein shakes, meal replacements and healthy food options; San Diego Photography, an in-studio and online photography business with more than 2,500 online clients; and Solo Eyewear, a company that creates sunglasses made from eco-friendly bamboo frames and donates a portion of its profits to fund eye surgeries in third world countries.