Frank VanderSloot: From Rags to Riches

CBS KIDK News 3 | Nate Eaton | Frank VanderSloot is one of the most powerful and richest men in Idaho.

Most Eastern Idahoans recognize him from Melaleuca or the big Independence Day fireworks program held every year in Idaho Falls.

VanderSloot is a man many people know and some have strong opinions about him.

Regardless of how anyone feels, you can’t argue that he’s become a big success because of his hard work.

Vandersloot’s life would make a great ‘From Rags to Riches’ type movie.

Born the third of four children into a poor family, Frank grew up on a small farm in Northern Idaho.

“My dad made 300 dollars a month,” says VanderSloot. “My mom did everything she could to save a penny including scavenging behind the grocery stores every week to get all the tidbits of food and pieces of peaches and carve out the bruised spots.”

Frank’s dad worked on the railroad and was gone all week so the kids took care of the farm…milking cows and keeping everything in order.

The Vandersloot’s lived in a tiny house where Frank shared a bedroom with his brother.

“My dad had used a chainsaw to cut a hole in the ceiling to make a bedroom for us boys and it came right down into his bedroom,” remembers VanderSloot.

Despite the challenges, Frank was happy and didn’t realize just how poor his family was until one night when he heard his dad talking with his mother.

“I heard him crying once to my mother apologizing to her how he’d failed her and our family,” recalls VanderSlooot. “In my mind, he was a hero. He never knew I overheard that conversation but it had an impact on me. It scared me because, I thought, ‘No one works harder than my dad.'”

Around this time, Frank was introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He ended up getting baptised when he was 17 and two years later decided to go on mission.

He withdrew all the money from his bank account except 400 dollars and departed for the Netherlands.

Two years later, he returned to Eastern Idaho where he began school at Ricks College. There he met his first wife.

They were married within a year of him starting school and both had no money so they moved into an old house that belonged to her father.

“We put a swimming pool under the bed and that was our bathtub. I splurged and paid 20 dollars for a hot water tank and I dug a new hole for the outhouse. I dug it myself and I thought, ‘What could a bride want? I got a brand new hole for the outhouse!” recalls VanderSloot with a laugh.

Frank graduated from Ricks then went to BYU where he got a bachelors degree in business administration. From there, his career skyrocketed. He went on to hold key management positions with two Fortune 500 companies.

Then, in 1985, a friend came to him with a business proposition.

“The idea to start a business using melaleuca oil was not mine. It was Roger Ball’s,” says VanderSloot.

Frank listened to the proposal and liked what he heard so he joined in to the brand new wellness company. Within a few weeks, he discovered many problems.

“We ran into several, several difficulties until it came to the point where we thought we need to close this down and start over,” says VanderSloot.

That’s basically what they did. Frank and his partners dumped the multi-level marketing model and did a massive overhaul on the business.

“I lost half the people in the first month. Half of them gone. But our first month in business we sold 75 thousand dollars worth of sales,” says VanderSloot.

Since then, that number has only gone up. Selling everything from vitamins, energy bars, laundry detergent, toothpaste, shampoos and hundreds of other wellness products, Melaleuca has become one of the largest and fastest growing private companies in Idaho.

The company made eight hundred and fifty nine million dollars in sales last year and despite tough economic times this year, Melaleuca is expected to make even more.

Astonishing when you think it all began with a boy from Northern Idaho who grew up with almost nothing and now has almost everything.

“It all seems very unreal and quite honestly undeserved. I don’t know why we’re blessed the way we are,” says VanderSloot.

Coming up Thursday night on Eyewitness News at 10…we’re going to discuss some controversial issues Frank’s been involved in.

From the Wolverine Canyon Windmills to the battle with the Post Register over a series the newspaper published about scouts who were molested by their leader.

Plus, Frank’s involvement with politics and if he’ll ever run for office.

Video Part 1