Alberto Culver founder, horse breeder Lavin dies at 97

RIVER FOREST, Ill. — Leonard Lavin, who built a small beauty supply firm into the billion-dollar Alberto Culver company and owned a successful horse breeding, training and racing farm, has died. He was 97.

Lavin died Wednesday evening at a family home in the Chicago suburb of River Forest from complications from pneumonia, family spokesman Dan Stone said Friday.

Lavin created Alberto Culver Co. after borrowing money in 1955 to purchase a beauty supply company that sold Alberto VO5 hairdressing product, according to a family obituary. Lavin expanded the company to include other well-known hair care lines such as Nexxus and TRESemme. Alberto Culver also owned Sally Beauty Supply, which became its own company in 2006.

Alberto Culver was sold to Unilever PLC in 2011. At the time it had sales of $1.5 billion, employed 3,500 people and sold products in more than 100 countries, the family obituary said.

Lavin also saw success in thoroughbred racing with his Glen Hill Farm in Ocala, Florida, which has produced several stakes winners, including the 1994 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner the filly One Dreamer. The farm was twice named Florida Breeder of the Year.

Lavin was born in Chicago in 1919. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, participating in numerous Pacific landings, his family said. He earned and received many honors, including the Order of Lincoln Medallion, the highest honor given by the state of Illinois.

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