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Lillian Vernon
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Entrepreneur
    (March 18, 1927-December 14, 2015)
    Born in Leipzig, Germany
    Birth name was Lilli Menasche
    Became a US citizen (1942)
    Founded the Lillian Vernon Corporation (1951), a catalog merchant (and later online retailer) specializing in low-cost items that could be monogrammed (at no extra charge)
    Chair and CEO (1951-89)
    Chair of the National Women’s Business Council (1995-97)
    She tried to shave a couple of years off her age: ‘One birth certificate says 1927, and one says 1929. I prefer 1929.’
    She was a workaholic perfectionist.
    She called the company her ‘third child.’
    She did not speak to her oldest son for two years after he left the company.
    She had plastic surgery.
    She was married three times, divorced twice.
    Her marital history may have influenced the inclusion of the catalog item that became her worst seller: a pillow with the motto ‘A woman who is looking for a husband has never had one.’
    She became fluent in English by watching American films while working as an usher.
    Her family fled Nazi Germany for the Netherlands (1933) and later the US (1937).
    Her first $495 ad in ‘Seventeen’ magazine for personalized belts and purses produced $32,000 in orders.
    In her 70s, she continued travelling 200,000 miles a year searching for items at trade shows.
    She was the first woman to found a company listed on the American Stock Exchange.
    She received the Sunshine Award for her work with charities, including Meals on Wheels, Toys for Tots, Literacy Volunteers of America and her alma mater, New York University.
    She said, ‘I like being tough. Tough and smart.’

Credit: C. Fishel


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