Leslie Munger says her state needs change.
“Right now, Illinois’s a bad value,” Munger said. The Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives in the 59th District believes she has the experience to increase its worth.
Munger spoke at a fundraiser July 31 at Joe’s Bar on Chicago’s North Side, hoping to catch young voters after work.
As her campaign against Democrat Carol Sente picks up momentum, she touted several of her accolades from her years of charitable activities.
In 2013, the Riverside Foundation Auxiliary named her their Volunteer of the Year, and in 2004, the Lincolnshire Community Association honored her as Citizen of the Year.
Long a manager of beauty supply brands like Proctor & Gamble and Helene Curtis, Munger is the mother of two Stevenson High School alumni, the older of whom took his first job in Houston because, Munger said, Illinois had nothing comparable.
“Exporting” her son to Texas, as she called it, was the impetus of her campaign.
“I feel that my state has forced me into this,” she said.
Munger said she is bothered by Lake County’s high property taxes, the decades-long reign of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, regulations that drive businesses to other states and laws that propagate frivolous lawsuits.
If elected, she would refuse a pension, vote against Madigan as House Speaker and work to freeze or reduce certain taxes, Munger said.
“What has happened to the state I grew up in?” the Joliet native and University of Illinois alumna asked herself. “I feel like we’re at a tipping point.”
Sente agreed, but said the day after Munger’s fundraiser that she sees Illinois tipping in a different direction.
“If there’s one thing that I want to eliminate, it’s the stigma that Illinois is not business-friendly,” Sente said.
Both women have handled tipping points before.
Munger recalled what she considers the toughest business decision she ever made, while working for Helene Curtis in downtown Chicago in the early 1990s, fresh back from a stint with Proctor & Gamble, her only years out of state.
Munger managed the Suave shampoo line, which sold more bottles than any other brand, but was losing in dollar sales, she said. Competitors had discovered the flip-top cap, and buyers strongly preferred its ease over the old-fashioned screw-on cap Suave still used.
Flip-tops were more expensive to screw-ons, and a switch would mean increasing the price, Munger said. Suave had succeeded as a low-cost value brand and was approaching what the company regarded as a mental roadblock with consumers, crossing from less than $1 to more than $1 a bottle.
Munger brought her boss a crazy idea: Go for the flip-top, spend more on the formula of the shampoo itself…then drop the price to 96 cents per bottle, she said.
The boss doubted her plan, but approved it. To motivate her, he promised that if she succeeded, he would dance down Wells Street, Munger said.
A year later, Suave passed Procter and Gamble’s Pantene and marked an 80 percent profit increase, with the lower price and more expensive product, she said. Her boss danced across the Wells Street bridge over the Chicago River, Munger said.
“It was a hard decision, because it required a lot of faith,” she said.
Sente spoke of the 2008 economic crash and leading her architecture firm, SRBL, during that time. The firm was later sold to a larger competitor, and Sente still works there 30 hours a week.
“How to cut a budget so dramatically, and do that in a smart way,” she recalled of the process. “How to keep the most employees — decisions about what benefits I was going to give those employees when we were not bringing in much work.”