Remembering Leonard Lavin, Champion of Entrepreneurship

Alberto-Culver founder Leonard H. Lavin passes away at the age of 97

legendary entrepreneur Leonard H. Lavin—who passed away at the age of 97 on August 2. Leonard, who attended University of Washington in the 1930s, was a huge advocate for undergraduate students—from all disciplines—who wanted to become entrepreneurs.We, the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, admit passionate and driven students into the highly-competitive Lavin Entrepreneurship Program each year to help them make their dreams a reality. That journey is possible because of the generosity of legendary entrepreneur Leonard H. Lavin—who passed away at the age of 97 on August 2. Leonard, who attended University of Washington in the 1930s, was a huge advocate for undergraduate students—from all disciplines—who wanted to become entrepreneurs.

He was the founder of Alberto-Culver Co. and acted as CEO until 2011. Alongside his late wife Bernice, who acted as the company’s CFO for decades, Leonard provided a $3M endowment to the Foster School of Business in 2007 to create the Lavin Entrepreneurial Action Program. That gift allowed the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship to launch the Lavin Program for incoming freshmen who demonstrated a high potential for entrepreneurship. The four-year program admits 25-35 students each year and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

“Leonard had a special place in his heart for undergraduate entrepreneurs,” said Connie Bourassa-Shaw, the former director of the Buerk Center. “He loved hearing their ideas and seeing how the students grew into their startup roles. Nothing made him happier than to come to Seattle to meet ‘his’ students. And when he became too infirm to come to us, we went to visit him in Chicago. He was a terrific story-teller, but he could also hone in on some of the issues students were having with their companies and give advice. I never heard Leonard offer anything but encouragement. He absolutely reveled in the literally hundreds of students who went through the Lavin Program.”

Buerk Center assistant director of academic programs, Leslie Mabry, managed the Lavin program for several years. “Although Mr. Lavin has passed, the confidence he had in the abilities of young entrepreneurs to create real companies and real impact will be felt for many generations of Lavin Entrepreneurship Program students to come,” she said.

The Buerk Center offers its deepest condolences to the Lavin family—and pledges to honor his legacy through student entrepreneurship.