Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda Corp. and self-made millionaire, dead at 72

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 15, 2014 - 11:00 PM

Hair-care entrepreneur had a rags-to-riches life story.

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Horst Rechelbacher in 2010.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Dml - Star Tribune Special To The Star Tribune

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Rechelbacher, known far and wide by his first name, died Saturday at his home in Osceola, Wis., of pancreatic cancer. He was 72.

Born in Klagenfurt, Austria, Rechelbacher learned about the plant world from his mother, an herbalist. That knowledge became the centerpiece of his career and a passion that grew through the decades.

“He saw himself as an environmentalist, and increasingly more so over time,” said his wife, Kiran Stordalen. “He saw the plight of the planet and the ongoing damage we’re incurring. He felt that very intensely, and saw that the way he could contribute to improving that was thinking about choices people were making from the consumer point of view — their purchasing power.”

Rechelbacher claimed to be a ­terrible student who never made it past fourth grade. But because he was hardworking and good with his hands, he became an apprentice barber at age 14. In what would become a rags-to-riches story, those skills took him across Europe and America in the 1960s, where he taught seminars and competed in styling circuits.

While on a tour through the Midwest, he was in a car accident in Minneapolis. With hefty medical bills to pay, Rechelbacher stayed in the Twin Cities to work them off and never pulled up stakes.

Saturday, messages from around the world poured into his Facebook page and website for Intelligent Nutrients, the company he launched in 1995 that specializes in organic, nontoxic health and beauty products.

“He was larger than life for sure,” said Chris Molinari, his public relations director for 20 years. “He was very, very, very clear on what he wanted. He was tremendously demanding, but I like that in a boss. He was a visionary and you really had to understand his vision and perform at a certain level.”

While best known for his roots in hair care, Rechelbacher was an avid art collector and artist, who drew his own Christmas cards and hand-painted perfume bottles for friends, Molinari said.

Rechelbacher opened his salon, Horst & Friends, in Minneapolis in 1965. Soon, he was formulating shampoos in his kitchen sink, mixing organically grown foods and plants.

In 1978, Rechelbacher launched Aveda Corp., with a staff of two and a goal of building a bridge between beauty and medicine.

He sold the company to beauty conglomerate Estee Lauder for a reported $300 million in 1997, and by then had built Aveda into an international brand known for its eco-friendly practices and lush-smelling products.

He opened a chain of Aveda Concept Salons to sell the products, which over time included hair care products, body spritzes, nontoxic house cleaners and nutritional supplements. He also opened the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis to train students in the art of hair styling, as well as skin care and massages.

Rechelbacher was a strong personality who didn’t mind ruffling feathers, or taking gambles. In 2006, he convinced Regis Corp. to become a partner and invest $10 million in Intelligent Nutrients. But in 2009, Regis ended up writing off $7.8 million in losses and gave the reins of the business back to Rechelbacher.

But Rechelbacher kept working at perfecting the products and grew many of the ingredients on his 570-acre farm and retreat center in Osceola. He fought to make the products USDA-certified organic, and safe enough to eat.

“Horst was a really open-minded man,” said Stordalen, who will continue to run Intelligent Nutrients with his daughter, Nicole Thomas. “If one avenue didn’t work, he’d consider another one.”

Rechelbacher once told the Star Tribune that Intelligent Nutrients was more than a rich man’s folly.

“It’s my life’s mission,” he said.

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  • A recent photo of Horst Rechelbacher.

  • Horst Rechelbacher died Saturday of pancreatic cancer. He was 72.

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