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 operation, has died. He was 97.
Mr. Lavin died Wednesday at a family home in the Chicago suburb of River Forest from complications of pneumonia, family spokesman Dan Stone said Friday.
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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.
Mr. Lavin also saw success in thoroughbred racing with his 400-acre Glen Hill Farm in Ocala, Fla., which has produced several stakes winners, including 1994 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner One Dreamer. The filly paid $96.20 to win in the race that was sponsored by Alberto-Culver.
Glen Hill was twice named Florida Breeder of the Year. In 2015, Mr. Lavin received the Eclipse Award Of Merit, a lifetime achievement award from the horse racing industry.
Mr. Lavin raced horses from coast-to-coast over the years, especially in Chicago, Florida and California. He won more than 30 stakes at Del Mar, the seaside track north of San Diego. Glen Hill has earned over $20 million in purses since 2000.
Mr. Lavin’s grandson, Craig Bernick, had taken over Glen Hill as president in recent years. Their filly, West Coast Bias, won a race at Del Mar on Thursday.
Mr. Lavin was born in Chicago in 1919.
He served in the 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.
Mr. Lavin authored the book ‘‘Winners Make It Happen: Reflections of a Self-Made Man.’’
He was preceded in death by Bernice, his wife of 60 years who died in 2007. She was an executive of Alberto-Culver and played an important role in the company’s success.
The couple was noted for their philanthropy.
They endowed a scholarship for inner city Chicago students at Lewis University in suburban Romeoville, and entrepreneurial programs at San Diego State University and the University of Washington, Mr. Lavin’s alma mater.