Before I read this book, I knew that Dal LaMagna (“rhymes with lasagna”), the founder of Tweezerman, was a smart, successful, passionate entrepreneur with a huge heart, real integrity, and an uncommon willingness to put his money where his mouth is—the Italian version of a genuine mensch. After reading this book, I learned that he is a fabulous storyteller, a self-deprecating humorist, and a lifelong “compulsive capitalist.”
Full disclosure: I know Dal LaMagna through our shared time on the board of YES! Magazine and his generous support of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI), where I serve as dean. I had even heard a handful of these stories before I read the book. I am aware of the risk I took in agreeing to review the book before I had read it—OMG, what if I didn’t like it?
Fortunately, that was not the case. Dal had me from the epigrams with which he opens each of his chapters. (Example: “Tell the truth. It’s easier to remember.”—My mother. “Tell the truth—and then run!”—My cousin Danny.) Throughout the book, he highlights in boldface type the lessons he wants to impart to would-be entrepreneurs. Samples of this good advice:
- Instead of spending your time raising money, why don’t you go find something you can do with the money you already have?
- A small company is not going to thrive if the founder tries to do everything. For me the art of delegating work was very simple. I did the job first, and when I understood the job from the inside, I then found someone else to do it.
- In business, as in life, we are a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things that we really have no explanation for at all.
The epigrams and aphorisms are wonderful attempts to extract lessons from life and thereby cheat the School of Hard Knocks a few of its pupils. But what makes the book sing is the life itself. Who but Dal would invest his entire Harvard Business School scholarship by buying stock on margin in a gold mine in Alaska? And who but Dal would have decided that the most effective way to oppose the war in Iraq was to run for president—and then actually gone ahead and done it? (The presidency was a scaled back ambition from the aspiration of his childhood: to be the first [Italian] American pope.)
My main disappointment with this book is that it doesn’t offer enough detail on Dal’s ultimate success: Tweezerman, the beauty products business he started in 1980 with $500 in cash and a splinter in his backside and built into a multinational business he sold 24 years later. In comparison to his amusing and sometimes spectacular failures, his success is a more prosaic combination of humility, hard work, patience, cost control, smart decisions, lucky breaks, and the occasional brilliant promotion.
And “Life After Tweezerman,” recounted in the last 20 pages of the book, seems a bit empty after all that went before—a rather surprising statement considering that those six years included a run for the presidency, a multi-year effort to bring the war in Iraq to an end through a unique brand of citizen diplomacy, the creation of a film company, and the production of four feature-length films. I came away from the book with the sense that having fulfilled the business and movie making ambitions of his youth, Dal is trying to figure out what to do next.
I wouldn’t count him out of a run for pope.
- Reading list for a better world.