Leandro P. Rizzuto, the cofounder and chairman of the Conair Corp., died Dec. 3 following a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Rizzuto built Conair Corp. from a small hair appliance manufacturer into a $2 billion-plus multinational corporation.
Those familiar with Rizzuto said that despite his illness, he remained active in the company founded with his parents in 1959. Starting in the family’s garage, Conair broadened its reach beyond hair appliances, including acquisitions of BaByliss, Cuisinart and Waring among other brands. Conair’s portfolio also includes Scünci, Rusk, Satin Smooth and Argan Color.
“Mr. Rizzuto was a man who loved life and people and deeply loved our company. He was our leader, mentor and teacher, encouraging those around him to always strive to do more than we thought we could do, and be greater than we thought we could be,” said Ronald T. Diamond, president of Conair Corp., in a statement.
Diamond vowed to honor Rizzuto with a dedication to innovative new products. “It is what Lee would want us to do and we’ll do it.”
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The company ushered in many product enhancements over the past five decades including pistol-grip blow dryers and more recently Conair’s FashionCurl.
“They always have been innovators and we had great respect for Lee. We will continue to be a huge fan of the brand,” said Carrie McDermott, president of Sally Beauty operations.
Lewis Hendler, president of Michal Todd Beauty called Rizzuto an “amazingly competitive force of nature.” Hendler had first hand knowledge having competed with Rizzuto prior to Conair buying Hendler’s Scunci hair accessories business. “He was demanding, but an inspiration to those who worked for him with a work ethic that put most people to shame,” Handler said.
Rizzuto had tight-knit relationships with retailers dating back to the seventies during the heyday growth of drug and discount stores, according to industry expert Allan Mottus. “He was considered astute, clever and more entrepreneurial than the other big companies such as Gillette at the time.”
Rizzuto’s funeral is expected to be private and his family will announce arrangements as they are made. Memorial Masses will be held for Conair’s thousands of employees to honor Rizzuto, company officials said.