​​Leonard H. LavinLeonard H. Lavin

San Diego State University

A bold leader, creative thinker and inspiration to students across academic disciplines, Leonard H. Lavin is a living testament to the fortitude of the American Dream. Mr. 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, Mr. Lavin bought a regional beauty supply manufacturer and turned it into a market leader with a presence in more than 100 countries. Under his direction, Alberto-Culver became an international Fortune 1000 company, manufacturing dozens of top brands in the toiletry, food, household product and professional beauty products sectors.

The company earned a reputation for innovation, both in new product development and advertising. Recognizing the value of television in building brand awareness, Mr. Lavin purchased sponsorship in several pioneering programs, including The Smothers Brothers Show. By the time he sold Alberto-Culver to Unilever last year, the company he had taken public in 1961 was earning more than $3.5 billion in annual sales.

Mr. Lavin's success story holds many lessons for San Diego State University students, among them the value of hard work, the necessity of making difficult decisions and the importance of anticipating market demand. But perhaps the singular achievement of Mr. Lavin's life—and one for which we honor him today—is his commitment to giving back in time and treasure.

A frequent guest lecturer at SDSU, Mr. Lavin imparts knowledge and insight that fuel the spirit of entrepreneurship across campus. The mentoring sessions he leads at the College of Business Administration attract crowds of admiring students. Since 2005, Mr. Lavin has been actively involved with SDSU's Entrepreneurial Management Center. His gifts to support the center have established Lavin VentureStart—a business plan competition open to students from all SDSU colleges—and the Lavin Entrepreneurs—a program for upper-division students that provides individual mentoring, site visits to emerging growth companies, and an entrepreneur speaker series.

In his autobiography, Winners Make it Happen: Reflections of a Self-made Man, Mr. Lavin writes, "Somewhere in the arc of my life and career lies a blueprint for a new generation of entrepreneurs. After all, there are no new tricks in our new economy, only new men and women at the helm." Today, we encourage those new men and women to learn from the life of a true American icon.

In recognition of his entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to students, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and San Diego State University are proud to confer upon Leonard H. Lavin the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.