Paul Newman, Entrepreneurial Role Model

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Just a few days ago, those of us who attended the Inc. 500/5000 Conference heard the late Paul Newman's long-time friend and business partner, A.E. Hotchner, tell the story of how Newman's Own got started. I've heard it often enough, but it never fails to move me and to evoke vivid images: Newman stirring a vat of salad dressing with a canoe paddle in his garage; Newman rejecting the advice of traditional marketers who told him he'd need to spend a boat-load of money on market research and opting instead to simply test his salad dressing on his pals; Newman ignoring the warning that celebrity foods almost always fail; Newman balking at the idea of putting his picture on the packaging and agreeing to do so only after Hotchner agreed that they'd give away every dime of profit. (Hotchner capitulated, assuming that the venture would never make money.) The company's success is now the stuff of entrepreneurial legends and there are lessons here for all business owners, young and not-so-young alike:

Branding: A striking package may make an initial splash in the marketplace but what drives sustained success is a quality product. Newman never compromised; he used fresh and natural ingredients long before it was fashionable. So yes, we all loved Newman's picture on the bottle, but we loved the dressing even more.

Innovation: It pays to challenge the status quo. Newman and Hotchner made pasta sauce with chunks of vegetables and meat back when sauce that you could pour through a sieve was the industry standard. They followed their gut instincts (and their taste buds) and created a new industry standard. Newman also started an organic division, Newman's Own Organics, at the urging of his daughter, Nell, who runs the company.

Social Mission: All things being equal, most consumers will choose to do business with a company that has an authentic social mission. Newman's Own gives away all its profits ($250 million so far), most notably to Hole in Wall Camps which Newman founded to give children with serious and terminal medical conditions a free summer camp experience. Who wouldn't want to be part of such a noble cause?

I've been wowed over the past few months at the number of young entrepreneurs I've
interviewed who seem to know and apply these lessons intuitively. That's no accident. They know what they know partly because of the high profile entrepreneurs like who came before them, and whose stories have consciously or subconsciously impacted the way they think about business. And for me, that entrepreneurial inspiration is the most important part of Newman's legacy.

Last updated: Sep 29, 2008

DONNA FENN | Inc.com Contributing Editor

Donna Fenn is the author of Upstarts! How GenY Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.




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