Ronald Reagan, Buzz Aldrin, Tom Brokaw, Ray Kroc, Sam Walton, Conrad Hilton, Michael Bloomberg and Jack LaLanne—when Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot learned his name was going to be included among these (not to mention the CEOs of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Home Depot, Starbucks, Intel and Yahoo!), his initial reaction was disbelief.
“To be selected as a lifetime member of the Horatio Alger Association and receive the Horatio Alger Award is a wonderful honor, but I know I do not measure up to the great men and women who have previously received this award—they have amazing stories,” Frank said when the announcement was made.
In the late 1800s, an author named Horatio Alger published a full-length novel about a 14-year-old shoe-shiner from the streets of New York who rose to become a respectable member of the upper middle class. When his book became a surprise hit, Alger began looking for other similar stories to tell about young people escaping impoverished circumstances and becoming successful.
In 1947, more than 40 years after Alger’s death, the American Schools and Colleges Association renamed its achievement awards, which honored those who triumphed in the face of adversity, for Horatio Alger, thus beginning a legacy that continues to this day. The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans is the largest provider of needs-based scholarships in the United States, awarding over $100 million in scholarships since 1984.
Frank was born just a year after the award adopted Alger’s name, and he grew up on a small farm in northern Idaho. With his father gone working on the railroad much of the time, Frank and his siblings kept the farm running—milking cows, feeding chickens, harvesting crops and chopping wood for the stove that heated their austere home.
“We had our own milk, we had our own garden, we raised our own animals for meat, and we tried to keep expenses as low as we could,” Frank reminisces. “My job was to milk the cows every night and every morning, and to chop wood for the stove.”
The Little Guy
There was, however, one area Frank’s parents insisted he not scrimp on: education. So as well as encouraging Frank to save every penny for college, his father allowed him to work on neighboring ranches during the summers to save money.
“Besides ranch work, I loaded trucks, worked on the railroad, sold beef jerky and cleaned laundromats,” Frank reflects. “Some might think that sounds rough for a kid, but the truth is I enjoyed every minute.”
Frank paid his own way through college and graduated without a penny of debt with a degree in business administration. He started a career with Automatic Data Processing and worked his way up the ladder. He later joined Cox Communications as a Regional Vice President.
Yet Frank was always conscious of how difficult it was for the “little guy” to get ahead in corporate America. Frank returned to Idaho where he eventually founded Melaleuca, Inc. in September 1985. He hoped it would give “little guys” everywhere an opportunity to take a step forward in life.
“I wanted Melaleuca to be a great financial opportunity for folks who hadn’t had the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder as I had done,” Frank says. “We decided to market our products differently by sharing our profits with our customers in exchange for word-of-mouth advertising.”
The “little guy” turned out to be a powerful business partner. In its first month, Melaleuca’s sales topped $75,000, and only five years later, Inc. magazine listed the company as one of the 500 fastest-growing privately held enterprises. Later, Melaleuca would join the Inc. 500 Hall of Fame, and in 2011, the company’s annual revenues topped $1 billion for the first time.
Frank will receive the award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on April 10, 2015.
“The accomplishments of Mr. VanderSloot are remarkable in and of themselves,” says Tony Novelly, the Horatio Alger Association’s president and CEO. “But when you see the incredible work ethic, perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit needed to achieve such outstanding success, it truly inspires. We are very proud to welcome Mr. VanderSloot as a lifetime member of the association and as an exceptional role model for all of our scholars.”
Frank has long said that success isn’t measured in awards or even in dollars, but rather in lives touched and families helped. Nonetheless, he recognized just what a singular honor the Horatio Alger Award is.
“Growing up, I learned that you don’t need much in material things to be happy, but I have also learned that having resources can enable you to make a great difference in people’s lives,” Frank says. “I am excited to join an organization that honors the spirit of American ingenuity and helps nurture it for future generations.”
Read the official press release on the announcement of Frank’s award here.