Mike Gallagher

The Campaign for Haas

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Giving Pioneering Ideas Room to Flourish

Consumer products maestro funds Berkeley Haas Innovation Lab

Lysol disinfectant, Fresh Step cat litter, the Diaper Genie disposal system. Some of the most familiar brands in stores rose to prominence under the management of Mike Gallagher, BS 67, MBA 68, during his 36-year career. He spent 15 of those years as a CEO, most recently of Playtex Products Inc., from which he retired in 2004.

Gallagher’s savvy creating, packaging, and marketing products led Kingsford charcoal to skyrocket from a regional brand to number one nationwide. His teams boosted Liquid-Plumr to first in its category over Liquid Drano. At Playtex, they significantly improved the market share of the company’s tampons but also diversified the infant cup line, eventually becoming market leader with leak-proof sippy cups.

Recently, Gallagher and his wife, Linda, donated $1 million to launch and support the Berkeley Haas Innovation Lab, which opened in August. With Haas classroom space at a premium, the lab is housed across the street at the renovated Cal Memorial Stadium.

How do you innovate products you might never personally experience?

It’s incumbent upon anyone who’s responsible for the development of a brand to really understand the personal relationship it has to its users. You study the market research; you listen to customers and consumers. You study which products have worked well, which ones haven’t, where the deficiencies are. You can become an expert without having to be a user of the product.

What are some of the things that you’re most proud of in your career?

Initially, it was getting products to become number one in their category. Over time, the joy really came from developing an organization with a common culture. Culture is the most important aspect of a business. The healthy, long-term successful companies are the ones that understand what they are and what their abilities are. They define their culture in a way that is consistent with that. It is similar to what Dean Rich Lyons did when developing the Defining Leadership Principles for Haas. I was on the Board at the time and witnessed his skill at clarifying the essence of Haas.

Why did you fund the Innovation Lab?

I’m inspired by the students I meet when I’m at Haas. They’re exceptional people with great opportunities for successful careers and a way to impact the business world positively. The I-Lab seemed perfect for the Defining Leadership Principles and the opportunity for students to have a place to work on innovative projects collaboratively and individually and where professors can try new teaching techniques.

What role should innovation play in the education of future business leaders?

You can’t necessarily teach someone to be creative, but I think pretty much anyone can be taught to innovate. To look at and analyze trends, market research, and competitive research. To take a problem and break it into its components. To come up with novel and intriguing solutions. It can be cultural innovation, it can be organizational innovation, and it can be product innovation. Any business that has a long-term goal of being around and being successful has got to have the ability to inculcate innovation within its base and within its teams.

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