In Pursuit of the Common Good by Paul Newman and A.E. Hotchner

What a life Paul Newman (and his pal, A.E. Hotchner who used to hang out with Hemingway) led. Not only was Newman a great actor, a great car racer and a great entrepreneur, he was also a damned fine human being. I can say that fairly conclusively based on this book which focuses on how the pair started Newman’s Own brand of natural-ingredient salad dressing which they literally started in Newman’s basement and turned into a multi-million-dollar empire (if empires can be made from condiments?) and then donated all their profits to charities and in the process set up a global network of summer camps for kids suffering from life-threatening conditions. Phew! Not a bad legacy at all.

I was trying to work out the secret to their business’s success. They themselves attribute it purely to luck. Yes, Newman’s name recognition helped open a few doors and set his brand apart on the supermarket shelves, but as one of the supermarket bosses quoted in the book said, his celebrity would mean folk might be willing to try his salad dressing once. To keep selling, it needed to be delicious. And it kept selling.

The pair had a lot of fun cocking a snook at prevailing business and marketing wisdom. They started with no business expertise, no understanding of the market, no staff and next to no budget. They never advertised. They just wanted to make good salad dressing. So why did it work?

The pair kept control of the quality of the product (they insisted on natural ingredients and no preservatives) and the marketing message (it was all done hilariously tongue in cheek) but they were happy to farm out the rest of the work to others who were motivated to go the extra mile because of the charity work, novelty value and uniqueness of the product. Luck? Sure, but they made it themselves.

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No. 10 of 100 books I intend to read and review in 2021.

Patrick Sherriff is an Englishman who survived 13 years working for newspapers in the US, UK and Japan. Between teaching English lessons at his conversation school in Abiko, Japan, with his wife, he writes and illustrates textbooks for non-native speakers of English, releases Hana Walker mystery novels, short stories, essays and a monthly newsletter  highlighting good fiction published in English about Japan. Saku’s Random Book Club is his latest project to spend more time with books.