1976 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"To be successful in your work, you must want to do a good job."
Robert Farrell's father operated an automobile dealership in Brooklyn that was owned by his grandfather. During the Depression, however, the business suffered greatly. Farrell's father died in 1931, leaving his mother penniless. She did the best she could, but within a year, Farrell and his sister were put into a home for children. When their mother remarried three years later, the family reunited and moved to Long Island.
Following his high school graduation in 1946, Farrell joined the Air Force. When his tour of duty ended, he attended Packard Junior College in New York. He had never been a star student and when he was younger Farrell often played hooky so that he could caddy or do other chores around the local golf course. In college, however, he earned good grades because the subjects motivated him.
Farrell joined the sales force of Libby, McNeil & Libby in 1951. He loved selling and remained there for 12 years, eventually becoming a sales manager. But Farrell wanted to pursue his intuition that there was a real need for the return of the ice cream parlor. Since he was from New York, he also thought the West Coast, where he was currently living, needed a place to get good delicatessen sandwiches. His dream did not become a reality, however, until he met Ken McCarthy, a Carnation Milk Company representative. Enthusiastic about Farrell's idea, he signed on as a partner.
The first Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant opened in 1963 in Portland, Oregon. By 1972, there were 65 restaurants in his chain. Farrell proved that you could run a successful business employing young people. His restaurants hired mostly high school and college students, whom he trained to be enthusiastic and service-oriented. Eventually, the chain was merged with Marriott, for whom Farrell served as a vice president for five years.
In 1982, Farrell became chairman of the Pacific Coast Restaurant Merchants, which owns several restaurants throughout the Northwest. Now fully retired from the restaurant business, he is a full-time speaker who specializes in the topic of customer service. His schedule takes him around the world, addressing major companies and corporations. He also markets audio and videotapes on customer service. Farrell makes it a point to always mention his Horatio Alger Award in the introduction of his speeches. "I'm very proud of it," he says, "It is a symbol that anyone can make a dream come true."