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07/03/2010

One year ago: John Barry

July 3, 2010 |  7:00 am

John-barry Few products gain the kind of name recognition achieved by the one John Barry began selling in the late 1960s: WD-40, that magic rust-away spray that, in its distinct but unassuming blue-and-yellow can, has become a staple in garages everywhere. Barry died one year ago Saturday.

Barry's business strategy was simple: brand loyalty. He insisted that the company, based in San Diego, stay focused on its one product and not get caught up in slick advertising or partnerships with large retailers. Barry, known for being quotable, had a saying: "Don't be like a blind dog in a meat house."

He was also known as being down-to-earth, avoiding the trappings of corporate life by answering his own phones and holding business meetings at coffee shops. His son Randy, who works in the operations supply part of WD-40, called his father a "meat-and-potatoes guy."

Barry joined the company, then called Rocket Chemical Co., as president and chief executive officer in 1969. Within weeks, he changed the name of the company to WD-40 Co. after its product, known as "water displacement" formula 40, because the inventor had supposedly failed 39 times in the process.

In his first year as president, the newly renamed WD-40 Co. had $2 million in sales. Within five years, sales were $10.4 million, and in 1990, when he retired as president, revenue was $90.9 million. He remained as chairman of the board until 1999.

For more on the WD-40 inventor, read John Barry's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: John Barry. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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