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2000 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Mark Victor Hansen

Mark Victor Hansen

"Motivation is an inside job. You’ve got to do it yourself."

Born in 1948 in Waukegan, Illinois, Mark Victor Hansen is the third of four boys born to parents of Danish descent. His father, who had only an eighth grade education, came to America at the age of 17 and soon married a first generation Danish-American. "My mother only had a sixth grade education," says Hansen, "but she was a wonderful storyteller. I loved the way she could enchant her listeners, which is a skill I always wanted to learn and master."

A baker by trade, Hansen's father owned a small shop, but went bankrupt during the Depression. He spent his last $50 on a new start during World War II and the bakery made a small but steady income for the family. Hansen's mother worked at the counter each day while his father baked in the back. "My parents thought hard work was one of the highest virtues possible," says Hansen. "I learned from my father that the more enterprising you are, the freer you are. He also taught me the virtue of being thrifty. Whatever income I earned during my childhood, my father took half of it to save for my college education."

Hansen was always encouraged to work. Of course, his father wanted his sons to be a part of the bakery, but that held no interest for young Hansen. Instead, he discovered that he had a natural talent for sales. At the age of nine, he dreamed of owning a racing bicycle that cost $200. To earn the bike, he sold 375 boxes of American Greeting cards door to door for $1 per box, making him the company's number one salesman in his age division. From that moment on he knew he wanted to be a lifelong entrepreneur. When Hansen was 16, he formed a band called The Messengers and earned $17 an hour playing bass guitar at YMCA sock hops. Those earnings gave him enough money to buy a car and a motorcycle.
It was also at the age of 16 that Hansen had a life-defining vision in which he saw himself talking to 80,000 people at one time. "I wasn't frightened by this vision," he says. "I revel in front of an audience. I knew I wanted to be a person who made a difference-someone who could leave a legacy. I didn't know how my vision would come to be, but I knew it would happen."

Hansen financed his undergraduate and graduate education in philosophy and communications at Southern Illinois University with the money he earned playing in his band. While working on his master's degree he became a research assistant to Buckminster Fuller, the owner of 2,000 major patents and the author of more than 40 national bestsellers, including Utopia and Oblivion. One of Fuller's signature inventions, the geodesic dome, became Hansen's first commercial venture. Within three years he had annual sales of $2 million, but one event Hansen never saw coming was the OPEC oil embargo of 1974. His domes used polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a petrochemical product that was suddenly scarce. Hansen's PVC was diverted to bigger customers and he was out of business overnight. Since he had personally guaranteed his company's loans, both the company and Hansen fell into bankruptcy. "I lost everything," he says. "I couldn't even afford the $300 needed for a bankruptcy attorney, so I had to represent myself."

Hansen spent the next six months living in the hallway of a friend's apartment. He found a job with the railroad, unloading freight cars for $2.14 an hour. Depressed and despondent, Hansen listened to an audiotape of Cavett Robert, founder of the National Speakers Association. After listening to the tape once, he listened to it again and again. In all, he listened to the tape 280 times. Amazed at what he was hearing, Hansen says, "Robert seemed to be speaking directly to me when he asked, 'Are you the creature of circumstances or a creator of circumstances?' Suddenly I could see that I had created my bankruptcy so that I could get out of what I shouldn't be doing and free myself for what I should be doing-which is speaking, writing, marketing, and promoting ideas that can help everyone."

In August 1974, Hansen started what has become Mark Victor Hansen & Associates, and became one of America's premier speakers. He became known as the Master Motivator, making thousands of presentations to many top corporations and professional associations in dozens of countries and every major city in the United States and Canada. He self-published several books whose titles include Visualizing Is Realizing, Sell Yourself Rich, How To Achieve Total Prosperity, and The Miracle of Tithing. Once he made a name for himself, established publishing companies printed his Dare To Win, The Aladdin Factor, and Out of the Blue.

In 1980, Jack Canfield, a teacher, attended a talk given by Hansen called "How to Triple Your Income and Double Your Time Off."After the seminar, Canfield went home and put up a sign over his bed that said, "This year I am going to make $100,000." He earned $96,000 that year and went in search of Hansen. When he found him, he asked, "Do you think we should become best friends?" The two began doing seminars together. In 1990, Canfield told Hansen he was writing a book of what he termed "happy stories." Hansen became interested in the project and proposed that they write the book together. The result was Chicken Soup for the Soul, a collection of 101 stories published in 1993. The book became a phenomenal success. With more than 90 million Chicken Soup for the Soul books sold in North America alone and more than 100 licensed products in the marketplace, it is one of the most successful publishing franchises in America.

Hansen's theory about success is that you can't be successful unless you love what you are doing. "Ninety percent of people who fail," he says, "fail because they're doing the wrong thing." For those who are unsure of their purpose, Hansen recommends sitting down with a pencil and writing: Who am I? "Such a simple exercise is a start on the road to discovering your purpose," says Hansen.