For Larry Levy, giving back to entrepreneurship started the same way most successful businesses begin. By seeing a need and filling it.
Levy is the founder and chairman of the Chicago-based Levy Restaurants. Since 1978, he's grown the company from a single delicatessen in Chicago into a specialized food service organization including a network of internationally acclaimed restaurants, high-end sports and entertainment facilities, and a new growth initiative in resort and hotel dining. Levy Restaurants pioneered the concept of premium dining in sports and entertainment venues in 1982. The company now includes 66 sports and entertainment locations in 39 markets worldwide. A St. Louis native, Levy is also chairman and CEO of his real estate development company, The Levy Organization.
As an undergraduate at Northwestern University and a 1967 MBA graduate of Northwestern's Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Levy remembers feeling like the only person on campus who truly saw himself as an entrepreneur. Most of his peers aspired to become executives in large corporations. An admired professor asked him why he would want to be a "promoter," which to Levy inferred some kind of get rich quick scheme.
The dean viewed his efforts to set up an entrepreneurs' club with disdain, but club membership grew and the demand it generated accelerated the development of Kellogg's entrepreneurial program.
Today, about 40 percent of students at Kellogg are taking entrepreneurship courses thanks in no small measure to Levy, who saw and responded to the need to support entrepreneurial education.
The Levy Institute
In 2003, Levy and his wife established the Larry and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice at the Kellogg School, where they also share their time and expertise. Their significant financial contribution has enabled Kellogg to advance into executive education for entrepreneurs, expand its entrepreneurship summer internship program, develop additional courses, and identify new faculty members in this area.
"We, as entrepreneurs, have been blessed with a skill that's allowed us to make more money than other people," says Levy, "and we should pay back for that privilege. There are a lot of people that can benefit from not only our capital, but from our knowledge and experience, both good and bad."
Levy's goal for Kellogg is to become nothing less than the number one institution in the world teaching entrepreneurship. Like most philanthropists, he's motivated to make a difference because doing so helps give life meaning. He likes knowing that he hasn’t just taken but given back to the world and, hopefully, improved it.
"What we get out of the experience of setting up the Levy Institute is the pride in seeing the school collaborate with us to create the very best outreach in teaching entrepreneurship in the world," he says.
Levy has also enjoyed the "entrepreneur meets academia" experience. He credits Dipak Jain, dean of the Kellogg School, and Steven Rogers, director of the Institute, for their willingness to pioneer new ideas.
"For example," says Levy, "we found out there is no school that teaches salesmanship. A lot teach sales management – the functional part of sales – but not the power of persuasion, the power of believing in your ideas, and what it takes to size up someone across from you. So we have a course coming up in salesmanship."
Levy also takes time to interact with Kellogg students. Scott Whitaker, development director for the Kellogg School, remembers the time Levy visited the school to share his experiences as an entrepreneur with 400 students, bringing with him the executive chef and 20 employees from US Cellular Field and the "famous dessert cart" loaded with treats that he invented for VIP dining rooms.
The Gift that Keeps Giving
Levy is clearly having fun sharing his entrepreneurial knowledge with the Kellogg School, but his motives go beyond the personal. Levy believes entrepreneurship education is important for the future of our country.
"He thinks about all the jobs that Kellogg entrepreneurs will create and about the profound impact this will have," says Art Frigo, a Kellogg School Adjunct Professor and longtime friend.
"Entrepreneurship," says Levy, "is what really makes America different from the rest of the world. What we hope to accomplish at Kellogg is to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs to create significant enterprises that will give employment to thousands of people, improve their lives, improve their self images, and improve their chances in life. And, hopefully, these people will give back as well."
Levy encourages Levy Restaurants’ employees to give back through "Levy Cares," the company's charitable foundation established in 1997. Levy Cares supports causes and organizations dedicated to children, those affected by HIV/AIDS, and the homeless. It also provides in-kind donations of food, hospitality services, volunteer time, and financial contributions to partner organizations.
Each Levy business throughout North America creates a Levy Cares program tailored to the needs of their community and the interests of team members within the parameters of the company’s overall charitable mission. Levy Cares gives breadth and depth to Levy Restaurants' guiding motto, "A smile is nothing until it is given away."
As for Larry Levy, he's banking his smiles with the goose that laid his golden egg, that is, entrepreneurship.
The great thing about giving back to entrepreneurship, as Levy sees it, is that it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It's like the Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." With entrepreneurship, "Give a person a job and you feed them for a day. Teach a person how to start and run their own business and you feed them for a lifetime."
© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.
Larry Levy Founder and Chairman Levy Restaurants