1974 Wharton graduate Leo Levinson could very well owe his 40-year career in advertising to an order of General Tso’s.
When he was working for _The Daily Pennsylvanian_’s advertising board, he was approached by the owner of a restaurant on 40th and Chestnut streets for advertising help — in turn for “a few bucks and some Chinese food, [which was] sort of an irresistible enticement for me,” Levinson said.
Levinson is now celebrating 40 years as an ad man, during which he has worked with companies such as Rita’s Water Ice and developed catchy jingles meant to stick in people’s heads like, “Be cool, eat a Rita’s.”
Levinson learned about sales before enrolling at Penn. His family worked in retail and he recalls spending his free time at the family store.
Levinson found himself enjoying sales at the store and during the rounds for his Cub Scout troop, when he sold greeting cards door to door.
The jump from cards to ad space was easy for Levinson.
As a Wharton undergraduate, Levinson cemented his career, selling ad space for the DP and working on his own publication.
Levinson’s years at Wharton taught him “a very practical understanding of a lot of business concepts or investing concepts.” He even forced his daughter, 2005 College graduate and 2006 master’s in education recipient Eve Levinson, to take his favorite accounting course.
When he got involved with the DP, Levinson began working with local businesses, such as the Penn Bookstore, which became a major client.
“Working on the DP made me understand a lot about … the idea of marketing and the idea of [advertising],” Levinson said.
In his sophomore year, he founded GroupLevinson.
For two years, Levinson brought his work home with him — he rented an apartment with his business partner and used the common room as the office.
“I was worried that a final or a paper might hurt the business,” he said.
However, Levinson was able to graduate with the business damaging only his reputation.
“I was known as the guy who wore his tie to school,” Levinson said.
But graduation wasn’t a special day for Levinson.
“When I graduated … in 1974, I just attended graduation and had a nice lunch with my family, and went back to work,” he recalled.
Four decades later, Levinson doesn’t regret his decision to go into advertising at 19.
“Over the years, we’ve had our ups and downs, but even in the worst of times I’d still rather be here than somewhere else because I really love the business,” he said.
“The key to success right now — and probably any time — is to be flexible and able to adapt, and I think that Penn ultimately prepared me for that,” he added.
GroupLevinson is still a full-service ad agency. “But it’s greatly different from where it was while I was at Penn,” he added.
Now, around 80 percent of the advertising that GroupLevinson deals with is geared toward the online market, which includes social media, email marketing and search engine optimization.
The business works with everything from manufacturers to home furnishing companies to heavy industry. Levinson still works with specialty foods and restaurants, although he didn’t mention if he was still being paid in Chinese food.
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