1993 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"I always tell people that whatever you do, it’s all sales. It’s all your ability to communicate with other people and get your message across."
Born on the South Side of Chicago in 1929, Andy McKenna says he learned discipline from his father, who had only a high school education. "The most important thing I learned from him," he says, "was dependability. It's important to be able to depend upon people, to know that someone's going to be there when you want them to be there."
McKenna's father often read aloud to him about achievers. His grandfather, who was a blacksmith, also influenced him in his youth. McKenna says, "I always respected him because he was an entrepreneur. I learned from him."
A bout of rheumatic fever kept McKenna out of much of the fourth grade, but he kept up with his classmates. "My parents wanted college to be a goal for me," he says. "Report card day was an important day in our household." Fortunately, McKenna was an excellent student.
He worked part time during high school and through college at Notre Dame, where he earned a degree in business administration and marketing. During his first year at DePaul University Law School, he held four jobs. He taught school, delivered flowers, and worked in a currency exchange providing tax counseling. He also tutored a Russian engineer in English grammar. Eventually, he switched to night school and worked one full-time job during the day.
Rather than find work as a lawyer after earning his JD degree, he became a salesman for Schwarz Paper Company. He rose quickly through the organization, becoming president within nine years-the first non-family member to serve in that capacity. In 1967, he purchased the company from its founder. Today, Schwarz has facilities throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
McKenna is a director of several boards, including Aon Corporation and McDonald's. He served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Notre Dame from 1992 to 2000, and was vice chairman for six years prior to that. He has served on many civic, community, and philanthropic boards, including the Museum of Science and Industry and the Economic Club of Chicago, both of which he chaired. He currently serves as the chairman of The Commercial Club of Chicago.
McKenna says he believes in being physically and psychologically active. "You should have a code of ethics to live by. Be focused. Believe in yourself and always be reaching for something. Don't ever assume something is beyond you. Reach for it and think you can achieve it."
When asked about education, McKenna says, "What the Horatio Alger Association does for young people is so important. Education is more than just a process of learning. It's a process of development. It is a broadening experience that helps you develop character."