Distributor, Marketer, Philanthropist and an all around Mensch
Larry Ruvo, who runs Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada, in my opinion, is the most extraordinary person in the booze business. He’s a distributor, an outstanding marketer and a philanthropist. If you Google Renaissance man, it might just as well show his picture – a person with many talents or areas of knowledge.
He started in his family owned restaurant in Las Vegas, worked as the GM of the LA Playboy Club, ran the Sahara and The Frontier, opened Caesar’s Palace and joined with Steve Wynn in starting a wine and spirits distribution company. That company became SWS of Nevada. So, most people think of him as Mr. Las Vegas.
But that doesn’t begin to describe the kind of man he is.
An intuitive marketer
The myth that suppliers (manufacturers) would have you believe is that distributors/wholesalers are a necessary burden. The law mandates them, they’ll tell you, but all they really do is move your box from their warehouse to the trade. Let me tell you, folks, in Larry’s case, nothing could be further from the truth.
When I was running US marketing at Seagram, the senior executives made biannual market visits. On the tour were the top brass, the sales guys, the finance folks and the marketing guy – me. Truth be told, I never really learned anything on these Tunnel of Love tours that I didn’t already know. That is, except for the visits to Las Vegas and the opportunity to talk with Larry about his brand building and marketing ideas. He was willing, no make that eager, to talk about what motivates consumers, bar owners and bartenders and the best ways to get a brand featured and showcased. I learned a ton from Larry Ruvo.
Did I mention gracious and warm?
I can’t remember how many Seagram sales incentive and achievement trips my wife and I took when I was with the company. But, whenever Larry and his wife Camille (whose birth date I share) were on it, we knew it would be special. Whether it was a dinner in the kitchen of an amazing restaurant in Bilbao, best places to shop in Hong Kong, lunch on the Amalfie coast – Larry knew the places to go, what to see, where to eat, how to make it more enjoyable. And, he delighted in sharing them.
Larry Ruvo does things with passion and total commitment, so when he turned his attention to fighting brain-damaging illnesses, it’s not surprising that wonderful things began to happen.
He is the founder and chairman of Keep Memory Alive, a foundation that built and supports the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas (also known as the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health). Its mission is to treat patients with such brain disorders as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and Multiple Sclerosis. Since its inception, the foundation has raised over $235 million and treated over 23,000 patients.
It all started in 1995 on the one-year anniversary of his father Lou’s death from Alzheimer’s. Larry gathered 35 friends for a private dinner at Spago to “laugh, reminisce and tell Lou Ruvo stories.” As the night wore on, it turned from an event to honor his father to a call for action to defeat the disease that took his father’s life. They raised $35,000 and the foundation was born.
The biggest challenge was being taken seriously since Las Vegas is not top of mind for world-class health and wellness facilities. But, in the last 10 years, thanks to Larry’s marketing, packaging and brand building skills, it has become just that.
To meet the challenge, he created the Power of Love Gala in Las Vegas and raised money to fund his plans. He convinced Frank Gehry to design the building and it is truly amazing. Next he signed a deal with Cleveland Clinic to operate it. But, he also needed a super star to run it. So he turned to Cleveland Clinic and said, “I’m giving you Yankee Stadium… I want Babe Ruth.” What he got was Dr. Jeffrey L. Cummings, a world-renowned leader in research and treatment of brain disorders.
That’s what happens, my friends, when you mix determination, passion and marketing skills.
His foundation, Keep Memory Alive and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, holds an annual fundraising event in Las Vegas. It’s called The Power of Love and in the past has honored Mohammed Ali, Quincy Jones, Sir Michael Caine and many others.
This year’s event is on October 11 and is billed as an evening with Michael Bublé. You can find out more at here.
When Larry Ruvo sets his sights on something, great things happen.