Lactaid and Beano, products that help millions of people avoid severe gastric distress, might have languished in obscurity without the efforts of Leonard Smith '75 (MBA).
Lactaid, a product that makes it possible for lactose-intolerant people to consume dairy products), was relatively unknown when owner/inventor Alan Kligerman recruited Smith in 1986. Smith had worked his way up to vice president for sales and marketing for Gist-brocades USA, a producer of industrial enzymes and bakers' yeast, but the idea of working for the small, innovative "nutraceutical" company appealed to him.
"The product literally changed people's lives," Smith says. "It felt great, helping people and making a living at the same time."
As president and chief operating officer, Smith handled production, finance and marketing. "The owner, a true entrepreneur, concentrated on dreaming up new products, and I ran the company," he says. "Everything just sort of came together, and I give the credit to my RIT MBA. The practical emphasis really helped me."
In the four years after Smith arrived, sales of Lactaid increased almost 300 percent and profits grew even more. The success got noticed; seven pharmaceutical firms competed to buy Lactaid and in 1991, it was purchased by Johnson & Johnson.
Meanwhile, Kligerman had come up with Beano, a product for prevention of gas often caused by dried beans and vegetables, and Smith became instrumental in its development. The whimsically named but highly effective product received a serious boost when Beano was discovered to be helpful to coronary patients, who are encouraged to eat more beans, fruits and vegetables. But the change in diet can have an unfortunate side effect — lots of gas. The product was recommended by Dr. Dean Ornish, best-selling author and advocate of a prudent diet as a means to heart health, in his clinics. The American Heart Association approved Beano for sponsorship of the "Beano Heartride," a bicycling fundraiser.
About the same time, noted chefs and food gurus were popularizing ethnic and regional cuisines, often rich in legumes and fresh produce. Americans embraced the trend — and Beano.
Sales ultimately exceeded Lactaid's, and in 1997, Smith helped negotiate the sale of Beano to Block Drug. He started his own consulting company, NUTRAssociates Inc. He advises several major international health-product companies on development, production and marketing issues. His experience and expertise is in demand as interest in dietary supplements, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, herbal preparations, and other alternative health-care products continues to grow. "People are working very hard to develop products with proven efficacy," he notes. "There are a lot of good products in the market, but there's also some snake oil out there."
Smith, who lives in Marmora, N.J., with his wife, Patricia, has enjoyed great success since he left RIT in 1975 with that shiny new MBA. But he admits his impressive resume doesn't reveal the fact that as an undergraduate at Union College, "I did not study as hard as I might have." After graduation from Union, he joined the Army and ended up in Vietnam.
After that experience, he was ready to work hard in grad school, but his undergraduate grades weren't high enough for admission. Due to a high score in the business school aptitude test, RIT accepted him on probation.
"With a family now to support and having done my time in Vietnam, my study ethics sure changed and I graduated with a 4.0," he says. "And for giving me the chance, I will always be grateful to RIT."
The University Magazine, Winter 2002