East Idaho News | Dylan Carder |
In the late 1800s, Horatio Alger made a name for himself writing novels about embattled youth who rose to nobility. Nowadays, the philanthropic organization that bears his name recognizes modern-day rags-to-riches stories such as McDonald’s Ray Kroc, Walmart’s Sam Walton, Home Depot’s Bernard Marcus, Coca Cola’s Douglas Ivester and now Frank VanderSloot, CEO of Idaho Falls-based Melaleuca Inc.
East Idaho News caught up with VanderSloot to get his thoughts on the award and the story that earned him a place among that prestigious list of industry and world leaders.
EastIdahoNews: I don’t think many people know how humbly your story started out. Tell me a little about the circumstances you grew up with.
Frank VanderSloot: I was born in Montana in 1948, and not long after, my parents moved to Spokane and bought a donut shop. I don’t know a lot about that, only that it lasted just a few months. Mom claims that’s because dad kept giving donuts away to little kids in the neighborhood.
They moved to Cocolalla, Idaho, where we had a small farm and an old Studebaker pickup with a homemade cab. That’s how they started. They were really broke at the time, but it was beautiful country. Dad got a job on the railroad. He worked on the paint crew and didn’t make much money. Since he was gone five days a week, I handled the day-to-day work on the farm.
EastIdahoNews: You paid your own way through college, right? Tell me about that story.
Frank VanderSloot: After my LDS mission, I went to Ricks College. My freshman year, I lived in the back of a Laundromat and cleaned it so I could live there for free. I remember there were a lot of mice, and they even got into my food! Eventually, I transferred to BYU where I graduated with a degree in business administration.
After college, I got a job at Automatic Data Processing. It was a good outfit, and it taught me a lot of important business principles. I became a vice president after nine and a half years with the firm, and I learned a lot from them. I was later recruited by Cox Communications to be their regional vice president for the Northwest.
EastIdahoNews: How did that lead to Melaleuca?
Frank VanderSloot: I was invited to come to Idaho to help get a company off the ground. A few months later, we started a new company called Melaleuca, Inc. We said, “Let’s sell high-quality wellness products that are environmentally friendly, and let’s develop a program where, if you refer customers, we’ll give you a commission whenever your customer buys a product.” Now, it’s been 29 years, and it has grown and grown. We sell products to more than 900,000 households in 18 countries around the world every month, and 85 percent of those sales are over the Internet. We now have roughly 3,400 employees.
EastIdahoNews: What advice would you give to someone coming from indigent circumstances, someone who faces the sort of adversity you faced?
Frank VanderSloot: You can use adversity in many different ways. It can beat us down or it can be a steppingstone—it just depends on how you approach it. It’s okay to get mad at the situation and decide you’re going to change it. But don’t get mad at the world. Your best education comes when you land on your feet, not necessarily in the classroom. That’s when you’ll learn the most.
EastIdahoNews: What does it mean to you to be included as a Horatio Alger Award recipient—a list that includes Tom Brokaw, Condoleezza Rice, Jack LaLanne, Jerry Jones and Jon Huntsman? It also includes captains of industry such as the CEOs of PepsiCo, Starbucks, Hilton Hotels, Pillsbury and Intel.
Frank VanderSloot: I’m proud to be a part of it, and I’ve long admired the organization. I never anticipated becoming a recipient myself. I’m honored just to be nominated for it. I don’t think my story holds a candle to some of the great stories I’ve heard.
But I’m impressed with the organization’s mission of helping disadvantaged students pursue higher education. They provide millions of dollars in scholarships, and I’m looking forward to mentoring some of these remarkable students and helping them achieve their version of the American dream.
Here is the video of Frank receiving the Horatio Alger Award.