Paul Newman’s Legacy: Social Entrepreneurship

Less than two weeks ago, I attended the Inc. 500 Conference at National Harbor in DC and heard Newman’s Own co-founder AE Hotchner deliver a speech full of wit, stories, and great insights about business and the idea of a human sector.

Less a week ago, Hotchner’s partner and the company’s namesake, Paul Newman died at the age of 83. Newman & Hotchner’s experiences with their Newman’s Own venture is worth looking at as this venture is likely to be his greatest legacy.

Newman’s Own legacy has been built through the great charity and direct help that it has produced (nearly $250 million donated so far), but more importantly for being an early, prominent success case of passionate, creative social entrepreneurs in action — putting a great product based on value into the market place in order to promote positive social change.

When Newman and Hotchner launched Newman’s Own in 1982 I don’t believe social entrepreneurship was in widespread use and was not being taught on college campuses. Today the field is growing fast for two reasons: 1) demand for meaningful work and impact by creative class and younger works and 2) the huge market of need that still exists among all of our economic plenty and government largesse.

Below are some excerpts from a long obituary by Lynn Smith at the LA Times. The entire piece is worth reading; Newman, an average kid from the Cleveland suburbs grew into a fascinating man whose path through life is worth remembering and sharing. It truly highlights the power of creativity applied across many sectors and a lifetime. Enjoy — and go buy some Newman’s Own sauce or dressing or cookies in Newman’s honor! From the LA Times:

Since the 1980s, Newman had devoted more time to Newman’s Own, a food products company he founded as a lark that grew into one of the nation’s largest charitable organizations. The company, which produces all-natural salad dressings, popcorn, sauces and lemonade, has turned over more than $250 million in after-tax profits to hundreds of groups, including his own Hole in the Wall Gang camps (named after the outlaw gang in “Butch Cassidy”).

His real-life role as a philanthropist began just before Christmas 1980 when he and his friend A.E. Hotchner made a batch of salad dressing in a bathtub to bottle for friends.

Newman was as much a perfectionist about his cooking as his art, friends said. “He knew the exact amount of fat that goes into the perfect hamburger,” Stern said. “In his salads, he sliced the celery the exact width.”

In restaurants, Newman was known to ask for olive oil, vinegar, chopped celery, salt, pepper and mustard to make his own dressing. On one occasion, when waiters at Chasen’s in Beverly Hills wouldn’t comply, he took the salad into the men’s room and washed the dressing off. “They brought the stuff he wanted, and he made the dressing,” Stern said.

Newman told reporters he never imagined the dressing would be sold nationally, but after the Christmas leftovers were given to gourmet shops, the lark became a challenge.

When it became clear the dressing could make a profit, especially with his face on the label, Newman decided to give back some of what luck and the world had given him.

Newman and Hotchner wrote witty labels to go with the company’s motto: “Shameless exploitation in pursuit of the common good,” which later became the name of their book that describes their adventures in business.

The company grew to produce many products, including popcorn, salsas, pasta sauces, marinades and Woodward’s “Old Fashioned Roadside Virgin Lemonade.”

In 2006, he opened Dressing Room: A Homegrown Restaurant to benefit the Westport Country Playhouse, one of Newman and Woodward’s favorite projects.

As a result of his business success, Newman donated more than $250 million to 1,000 groups, including the Scott Newman Center — devoted to anti-drug education — and several Hole in the Wall Gang camps, designed for children with life-threatening diseases, with locations in France, Ireland and Israel as well as the U.S. Every summer, Newman stayed at the original camp in Ashford, Conn., where he told ghost stories and staged shows with other celebrities for children who knew him only as the face on the lemonade carton.

“If I leave a legacy,” he said in 2006, “it will be the camps.”

This year, he turned up at a meeting of parents and children at the first camp and reportedly said: “I wanted to acknowledge luck. The beneficence of it in many lives and the brutality of it in the lives of others, especially children, who might not have a lifetime to make up for it.”

3 thoughts on “Paul Newman’s Legacy: Social Entrepreneurship

  1. Paul was a great actor and a greater man.
    He will be missed. His Newman’s Own
    Lemonade is a staple around my house !

    My favorite Newman flicks: “Cat on a
    Hot Tin Roof”, “Torn Curtain”, “The
    Sting” and “The Towering Inferno” !!!

  2. it’s hard not to admire Paul Newman for putting his money to work in such productive ways, such as his Newman’s Own line–high quality stuff and the proceeds go to good causes… very smart.

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