February 7, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Herman Lay

Herman Lay’s business career started in 1919 when he was 10 years old. He opened a soft drink stand in his front yard in Greenville, South Carolina. Location is everything and the Lay home was opposite the town ball park. Business was so good Herman opened a bank account, bought a bicycle and hired assistants to tend the stand.

His business career was interrupted by schooling. Herman attended Furman University on an athletic scholarship but dropped out after two years, anxious to resume selling. Lay worked at a succession of jobs before setting up as an independent snack food distributor in Nashville in 1932.

By the end of the decade Lay was able to buy a financially ailing snack food manufacturer in Atlanta. He renamed the company H.W. Lay & Company and made Lay’s Potato Chips the star of his line. Over the next two decades Lay’s potato chips became the most asked-for brand in the South. There were no national brands of potato chips at the time but Lay was about to change that.

He merged his company with the Frito Company of Dallas in 1961 to form Frito-Lay. As board chairman of the new company he advertised extensively and Lay’s Potato Chips were soon on grocery shelves across America next to regional brands. In 1965 he negotiated another merger with the Pepsi-Cola Company to form the massive conglomerate Pepsi-Co. In his role as chairman Lay pushed the company into many new product lines.

Although sitting at the pinnacle of corporate America Lay was an active advocate of entrepreneurship. He spoke frequently promoting entrepreneurship and endowed chairs at several colleges to encourage young people to go into business for themselves. When he retired from Pepsico in 1980 he heeded his own advice.

As soon as he departed the corporate world Lay began starting new businesses. He set up several family corporations engaged in real estate and oil and gas exploration. When cancer caught up with him in 1982 Lay was still starting businesses; echoing his early career he had just returned to the food business with the launching of State Fair Foods, a manufacturer of frozen foods.

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