- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2008

This story was originally published in The Washington Times on August 27, 2008.

The ending sequence is iconic in American film. Outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are surrounded by the law in a small town in Bolivia and, in a brotherly nod to their apparent fate, charge heroically, foolishly, romantically into a hail of bullets. The final frame freezes with them in midstride, caught eternally in their youthful final moment.

Flash forward 40 years. Since the release of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Robert Redford (Sundance) and Paul Newman (Butch) have had stellar careers matched only by their broader contributions to the world.

Today, rather than going out as a bad guy gunned down by the law, Mr. Newman is one of the best of the good guys, reportedly fighting an epic battle with lung cancer — prompting some reflection on his remarkable path through life.

Related story: Paul Newman dies age 83

A member of the “Greatest Generation,” Mr. Newman served in the Pacific theater as a rear gunner and radio man on Avenger airplanes before returning home to pursue his love for the theater. He got his first break into film in 1954.

Over the course of his acting career, Mr. Newman has won an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Cannes Film Festival award and an Emmy. Despite his success and fame, Mr. Newman eschewed celebrity and made his home in Westport, Conn., with his wife of 50 years, actress Joanne Woodward.

It was in Westport that Mr. Newman emerged as an unlikely entrepreneur. The book “Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector,” by Jane C. Wei-Skillern, James E. Austin, Herman B. Leonard and Howard H. Stevenson tells the story:

Every Christmas, Mr. Newman would sing carols for his neighbors and give gifts of wine bottles filled with homemade salad dressing tied with a ribbon.

By mid-January the neighbors evidently started requesting refills. That experience planted the seed of a small salad-dressing enterprise, and Mr. Newman recruited a friend, writer A.E. “Hotch” Hotchner, to join the entrepreneurial adventure. Various challenges cropped up, including finding a local bottler willing to take a bet on the unlikely pair.

The two persisted and were gaining momentum until they hit a roadblock over what should be on the label. Mr. Newman refused to put his face on the label, but his associates were adamant, insisting that was the only way the bottles would sell.

Mr. Newman relented under one condition: All profits after taxes would go to charity. The compromise created one of the most aggressively socially responsible companies in the country.

Mr. Newman explained, “When the face came on the bottle, I knew that the profits would have to go to charity. To make money off that would be so tacky. From this came the concept of circular exploitation. I allow my celebrity status to be exploited in order to sell stuff from which I then in turn channel the proceeds into good causes, hence the slogan of our company: ‘Shameless exploitation for the common good.’”

Since its official incorporation in 1982, Newman’s Own has contributed more than $250 million to more than 1,000 charitable causes globally. One standout success has been the Hole in the Wall Gang — a summer camp established by Mr. Newman and Mr. Hotchner for children fighting cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

With a $10 million investment to start the first camp, it has expanded to five associate camps in the United States, Ireland and France and has created a year-round program that serves more than 15,000 children annually.

Mr. Newman’s charitable influences haven’t been confined to his own giving. Following Mr. Newman’s lead, numerous suppliers and distributors of Newman’s Own have started their own philanthropic programs. As Ed Salzano, the packager for Mr. Newman’s pasta sauces and salsa said, Mr. Newman “exposed me personally and my associates to what a true philanthropist and what social consciousness is all about.”

Newman’s Own also has established more than 85 “goodwill alliances” with area supermarkets to help boost giving in local communities. Mr. Newman himself has been part of a broader effort in the business community to create the Committee for Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.

With 165 corporate partners, one of the committee’s goals is to boost public companies’ annual giving to 2 percent of pretax income, which would provide an estimated additional $4 billion for the nonprofit sector.

Mr. Newman is not alone as an actor who has leveraged his celebrity for good. Think Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood, even Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. We only hope Mr. Newman’s example encourages more actors and celebrities to use their fame and entrepreneurial spirit to create lasting change in the world.

Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek are the co-authors of “Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives” and the founding partners of New Mountain Ventures, an entrepreneurial leadership-development company. They can be reached at [email protected] preneurs.com.

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