2000 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Be the best at what you do."
Born during the height of the Depression in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tom Cundy grew up in Bellevue, Kentucky, an Irish/German settlement along the Ohio River. He did not have a close relationship with his father, an unskilled laborer and an alcoholic who was away from home for long periods of time. When he was 16, his parents were officially divorced.
Cundy's mother, Nettie Mae Maloney, was a bright student who never had the opportunity to finish high school. She earned a small income for herself and her son by working in a Cincinnati department store. They lived in a small house, where Cundy slept on a cot he had to make up each night. He never had a real bed until he went away to college. In addition to his mother, Cundy had the love and support of his maternal grandparents. His grandfather, a factory worker, loved to read and spent many hours talking with his young grandson.
Cundy's introduction to selling began at an early age. In the second grade he sold Liberty magazines door to door. His determination to succeed was evident even at that young age. To make more money, he usually held two jobs, doing such things as delivering newspapers, cutting grass, running errands, and shoveling coal.
At the end of each day, he and his mother pooled their earnings. During the Depression, Bellevue, Kentucky, benefited from the WPA construction of a sports complex consisting of a stadium, tennis and basketball courts, and fields for football, track, and baseball. It was there that Cundy's love of sports was fostered. He began playing tennis when he was 10, and a friend of his mother's, Roger Klein, tutored him in the game and became his mentor in life.
When Cundy entered ninth grade, he became the caretaker of the Bellevue tennis courts, which paid him $2 a week. He became an excellent tennis player and won the first tournament he entered. In 1951, he won the Kentucky state high school tennis championship. This win brought him scholarship offers from many Big Ten schools as well as the Naval Academy, but Cundy chose Florida State University. To supplement his scholarship, he worked as a busboy in the school cafeteria and washed dishes in the fraternity house. During summers he worked for a bottling company in Cincinnati and as an assistant to Coach Klein. He was a top player on the FSU varsity tennis team his entire four years. In 1953, Cundy led the Seminoles to their best season ever with a 15-2 record, which still stands.
Following his 1955 graduation with a degree in industrial psychology, Cundy was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He served as tennis coach at the base in Quantico, Virginia, and led his team through a 42-match undefeated schedule. Cundy left the Marine Corps as a first lieutenant and obtained the rank of captain while serving in the reserves.
At FSU, Cundy enjoyed sales and marketing courses and after he left the Marines he decided to try his hand at selling insurance. He landed a sales job with Prudential and within 10 months sold more than $1 million of insurance. Fortified with a great deal of self-confidence, he left Prudential to start his own agency backed by Provident Life & Accident. It wasn't easy to get established, but his persistence eventually paid off. Over the past 40 years, Cundy has attained record success with many notable clients. Today, Cundy, Inc., is one of the leading privately held employee benefit consulting firms in the country.
Cundy wanted give himself the opportunity to succeed. He started down that road with a good education. "Getting a college degree is the foundation," says Cundy. "It starts you on your way. I couldn't put a price on what my education and the Marine Corps did for me." Cundy believes that his Horatio Alger Award is one of his life's greatest accomplishments. He says, "I am proud to belong to an organization that does so much to help deserving youth get their start in life."* Deceased