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McIlhenny's Gold


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About the Author

A former BusinessWeek editor and national editor at Bloomberg News, Jeffrey Rothfeder has written for publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post and has appeared on 20/20, Nightline, Today, Good Morning America, and Oprah. He lives in Cortlandt Manor, New York.


Former Bloomberg News editor Rothfeder (Every Drop for Sale: Our Desperate Battle Over Water) has previously tackled such subjects as arrhythmia and the unstable future of freshwater resources. Now he turns his research skills to the challenging task of separating fact from fable in the history of the McIlhenny clan, inventors of one of the world's most recognizable condiments, Tabasco. Rothfeder follows the family business from founder, Edmund McIhenny's planting his first peppers on Avery Island, LA, to the current CEO, Paul McIlhenny, who, in 1999, wrested control of the company away from Vince Pierse, the only non-McIlhenny ever to head the company. While Tabasco is renowned worldwide, the family that created it has managed to retain much of its anonymity, further complicating Rothfeder's research. The core group of McIlhennys, who still reside on Avery Island, were opposed to the publication of this history and refused to be interviewed. However, Rothfeder did find several family members willing to speak anonymously and wove their recollections with interviews of former employees, competitors, and numerous primary sources into an engaging tale of a family business that has thrived for 139 years, largely by refusing to adapt itself to changing times. Recommended for academic and public libraries.-Tessa L.H. Minchew, Georgia Perimeter Coll., Clarkston Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

"[T]he history of Tabasco and its creators, the McIlhenny family, makes for a spicy...tale, and Jeffrey Rothfeder serves it up nicely." -- BusinessWeek "[T]he unembellished saga of the McIlhenny clan is a tale that needs no seasoning." -- Portfolio "[B]alanced and always entertaining." -- Publishers Weekly "These days, Tabasco is nearly as ubiquitous as butter and as quotidian as salt and pepper-and this book chronicles that progression in equal parts business story and Faulknerian family saga." -- Forbes "Rothfeder manages to tell a compelling story of single-minded product marketing, Southern social history and slavery, and the challenges endemic to all family firms." -- Library Journal "From its legendary invention in the months after the Civil War, to the carefully guarded recipe and production and the tightly controlled employees' town in the Louisiana swamps, Rothfeder looks at the extraordinary journey of a family from rags to riches." -- History

This portrait of the eccentric family that brought the world Tabasco sauce isn't exactly hot, but it's certainly flavorful. Rothfeder digs deep into "one of the most profitable and oldest family businesses in U.S. history"-McIlhenny Co., founded in 1869 on a salt-mine island off Louisiana-and has fun sorting family legend from fact. The early years-including setting up a plantation with workers' housing that remained in operation until only a few years ago-were the company's most eventful. After winning a dubious legal battle to trademark "Tabasco," McIlhenny Co. settled in as a sluggish one-product manufacturer relying on word of mouth. So it's a good thing for readers that the McIlhennys have left such colorful and controversial legacies as collectors, conservationists, citizens and especially CEOs. Granted, with its unique circumstances and "relatively simple, one-dimensional Tabasco business model," McIlhenny Co. is of little use as a corporate case study, except perhaps as an example of how family ownership can destabilize even a sure thing. Despite the company's "ebbing sales and profits" even in the midst of a hot-sauce craze, Rothfeder's tale is balanced and always entertaining, and may please at least some of those who shake a few drops of Tabasco on whatever they're eating. (Oct.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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