2008 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Pursue opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone."
Joseph Moderow was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1948 to parents of German and Swedish descent. Life dealt an early blow when on his first birthday, Joe was hospitalized with polio. After recovering with few side effects, he rejoined his parents who worked hard to provide a modest living. His father, though uneducated, worked as a lab technician for Abbott Laboratories. However, over the years, his bitterness over the lack of opportunities combined with his rigid, domineering nature resulted in explosions of verbal and emotional abuse against his family followed by weeks of silence and alienation.
A move to California, seeking a new beginning, only temporarily delayed the inevitable family breakup. In high school, after failing to measure up to his father's standards, Joe was declared a 'disappointing failure who would never amount to anything in life.' His father refused to speak to him for the remainder of his life.
Though lacking traditional core family nurturing and encouragement, Joe was blessed by his mother's parents who stood in the gap, demonstrating unconditional love, optimism, and faith that helped him overcome despair and loneliness. Fear of failure and the determination to amount to something were powerful motivational forces. He enrolled in college, supporting his studies with a variety of part-time jobs. In 1968 he began working at United Parcel Service (UPS) as a package unloader and sorter. Little did he know then how important that opportunity would become.
1970 was a pivotal year for Joe. He became the first person in his family to earn a college degree. He graduated from California State University at Fullerton (CSUF) with a business degree in economics, married Karen, and he moved into Karen's family home while she cared for her mother during the final stages of breast cancer. 'Winning' the selective service lottery during the Vietnam War, he began a six-year stint in the Army National Guard.
Joe returned from basic training, accepted a full-time position at UPS, and enrolled in night law school. But the heavy workload, legal studies, and military duty on weekends took their toll. He developed ulcerative colitis that required treatment with a regimen of debilitating steroids. Passing the California Bar Exam in 1975 afforded new career opportunities at UPS, which has a strong policy of promotion from within. During his 35-year career, Mr. Moderow had management assignments in operations, engineering, labor relations, and international trade.
Joseph Moderow served for two years during the Reagan Administration as an appointed Presidential Exchange Executive at the U.S. Department of Labor. Returning to UPS, he completed his career there with primary corporate responsibility for the legal, government affairs, and public relations functions. He served as General Counsel to four UPS Chairmen and CEOs and was a member of the UPS Board of Directors from 1988-2004.
However, Mr. Moderow's rapid career advancement was paralleled by adversity. The extended and increasing dependence on steroids and stress triggered clinical depression. The worsening colitis required nine surgeries within thirteen months, the last one was to remove his colon. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Moderow's 18-year-old son, Michael, was in a car accident resulting in a severe traumatic brain injury. After four-and-a-half months in a coma, thanks to prayer, the dedication of family and friends, and hard work, Michael achieved a remarkable recovery.
Leading an active-life retirement with his wife of 40 years, they focus on helping young people through education, training, and health initiatives. Mr. Moderow serves on the boards of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Shepherd Hospital, the Brain Injury Resource Foundation, and the Haggai Leadership Institute. He is a Trustee of the U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society and advocates for ethics in corporate governance at the CSUF business school.
Recognizing his life has been one of unusual opportunity as well as adversity, Mr. Moderow says, 'A person's life cannot be defined in terms of achievement at work or at home, but by the character forged by both the blessings and challenges of living.'