Reviewed by John David Mann

“There are three rules for running a business; fortunately, we don’t know any of them.”

So reads the business canon of Newman’s Own, the philanthropic juggernaut of a natural foods empire created by the authors of Shameless Exploitation. Paul Newman once told Lee Iacocca, when his (Iacocca’s) Ford Pinto caught on fire, “You can get straight A’s in marketing and still flunk ordinary life.” The Newman-Hotchner “madcap business adven-
ture” has vigorously and consistently explored the flip side of that equation.

They have so flagrantly defied marketing and business convention that one is almost compelled to give them an honorary flunk in business (except for that pesky detail about how fabulously successful they’ve been). At the same time, they have certainly earned a string of straight A’s in “ordinary life.”

Hotchner is a distinguished novelist, journalist and playwright, and his irreverent, raconteur’s style, combined with Newman’s legendary sense of humor, make for an absolutely delightful read.

For example:

“The notion of opening a Newman’s Own restaurant arose one afternoon while we were out fishing in our boat, the Caca de Toro [editor’s hint: Toro means “bull”], a rather disreputable craft with a vintage outboard motor which, on occasion, rebelled in the middle of the Long Island Sound, necessitating an ignominious tow to the marina by a harbor police boat.”

There is a famous moment in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Butch and Sundance are backed up against a cliff that drops hundreds of feet to a rushing river below. Sundance (Robert Redford) refuses to jump, saying he’ll take his chances fighting off the superposse with his six-shooters. Butch insists, until Sundance finally confesses: “I can’t swim!” Butch laughs and says, “You dumb sonofabitch—the fall’ll probably kill us!”

That’s how Hotchner describes their enterprise:

“A movie guy and his buddy going hard against the odds. Like Butch and Sundance jumping off a cliff into a business and marketing canyon—the fall will get us if the sharks in the supermarkets don’t. It was a lunatic thing, like a bumblebee or a helicopter. There’s no reason for it to fly, but then again, there were the Wright brothers.”

It all comes across as a great lark—but all the hilarity, hijinks and self-effacing humor scarcely disguises the fact that these two gambled huge investments of money, personal effort and reputation to make a difference in the lives of thousands.

Rarely has a book on business so moved me and at the same time caused me to guffaw out loud, from cover to cover!

Hardcover, 251 pages; $23.95; Nan A. Talese, 2003.