1979 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Give 100 percent of yourself to whatever job you are doing."
David Collier was born in Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, in 1929, the day after the great stock market crash. He was one of five children born to a traveling Nazarene preacher. Collier helped his family financially by selling newspapers and polishing marble in a monument factory. He also worked in a creamery.
He enjoyed school and wanted to be a teacher. By the age of 19, he had earned a teaching certificate from the University of Alberta and was educating 28 children from grades one to nine in a one-room schoolhouse. His salary was $1,500 a year, plus $7 a month for janitorial services.
Unhappy with his teaching position, Collier resolved to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, but just days before he was to report for duty, he went to the doctor to be treated for a cold and learned he had tuberculosis. Resolved to fight the debilitating disease, Collier spent the next 12 months in a sanitarium in Edmonton, Canada, and nine more months recuperating at home. After his recovery, he found a job selling stocks and bonds for Investors Syndicate in Edmonton.
While visiting his father's church in Montana, he met his future wife, Eleanor, also a native Canadian. After they were married, Eleanor worked as a social worker and Collier enrolled in a business course at the University of Montana, completing his bachelor's degree in 18 months. "We were poor as church mice," he says, "but I saw a brochure on the Harvard Business School and figured a couple more years of poverty wouldn't hurt us."
Following graduation from Harvard, he became a member of General Motor's comptroller's staff in Detroit. Seven years later, he was transferred to his native country as assistant comptroller of General Motors, Canada. During that period, he and Eleanor became American citizens.
He returned to Detroit as director of GM's product programs. From that point on, he rose rapidly through the ranks. He was treasurer of the corporation, president of GM of Canada, and in 1977 became general manager of Buick, a GM division. Collier went on to serve in other top executive capacities, including vice president in charge of the finance group in New York. When he retired from General Motors in late 1984, he was chief executive in charge of the operating staffs.
Collier's advice to American youth is, "Don't grab for the money in the beginning of your career. Grab for something worthwhile in the long run. The money will come later."