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Legacy: Hyman Golden, 1923-2008

The Snapple story you don't know.
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Imagine your daughter: Ivy League and then law school, a flourishing career, two nice kids of her own, volunteer work. Then she goes through the nastiest divorce, and forever after, she is known as that poor woman who went through the awful divorce.

That's sort of what happened to Hyman Golden's baby -- only it was his business, not his daughter, whose many achievements seem overshadowed by one spectacularly sorry period. Golden and two partners founded the upstart juice-and-tea company Unadulterated Beverage, later known as Snapple, in 1972. The company helped usher in a more varied and innovative beverage industry in the United States, and Golden made more than $100 million when Snapple was sold, first to a leveraged-buyout firm and then to Quaker Oats, which paid $1.7 billion for the company in 1994. But he had to watch as Quaker Oats botched combining the company with its own operations, sold it off for a mere $300 million, and in the process turned Snapple into a synonym for a failed acquisition.

Golden died September 14 from complications of a stroke. He was 85. A high school dropout and onetime window washer, he was immensely proud of Snapple's success. He and his partners would belt out "God Bless America" at company parties. And he was sick at heart over Snapple's later failures.

In the business pages, a disastrous banking merger is the Snapple of finance. The Quaker Oats deal was called humiliating and like a death in the family. To many, that's Snapple.

None of that, of course, was the fault of Golden and his partners. Nor should it take away from their achievements. Golden was raised by his father, a Romanian immigrant, after his mother died when Golden was just 4. By age 40, he had graduated from washing windows to brokering window washing businesses. He saved some money and with his partners started a little juice company in Brooklyn, New York.

Golden was chairman and handled the money raising and the distribution agreements. His brother-in-law, Leonard Marsh, was chief executive. A third partner, Arnold Greenberg, was chief operating officer. They tinkered with flavors. They argued over packaging.

"We fought cat and dog in that office," recalls Marsh, 10 years younger than Golden. "But when we walked out of that office, we were one and the same. I loved Mr. Golden. He was like a father to me."

Golden and his partners knew nothing about the beverage business. But they trusted that they could figure out most things. "They believed in their partnership," says Sharon Golden Brenner, Golden's daughter. She remembers dropping by the office and finding them surrounded by vials of flavor concentrates. Tasting. Arguing. Tasting.

There was little argument, though, when big offers for the company poured in. "We never had any real money," Marsh says.

In the depths of the Quaker Oats mess, Golden Brenner says, her father told her, " 'If I were a little younger, I'd buy that company back.' But he'd passed his time." Much to the delight of the three partners, Snapple was revived after Quaker sold it and is now part of Dr Pepper Snapple Group. "They're doing nice things," Marsh says.

Last updated: Dec 1, 2008




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