1999 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"The pursuit of excellence is worth the effort."
Born in the blue collar town of Lufkin, Texas, in 1936, Jack Gill was the fourth of six children. His parents were poor and under-educated. No one in his mother's family had ever graduated from high school. At the time of Gill's birth, Lufkin's paper mill and foundry supported most of the town's population of 10,000. His father drove heavy equipment, working 12-hour days, six days a week. Gill says he didn't see a lot of his father, but knew him to be very bright and principled. "My father was self-taught. He read newspapers and books and enjoyed sharing with us what he learned," he says.
Living 10 miles outside Lufkin, the family had a small orchard that provided them with fresh fruit. They raised chickens and had a vegetable garden and a cow. It was Gill's job to milk the cow each day. As a youth, he often filled a bucket with peaches and plums from the orchard and made a little money selling them. He started mowing lawns when he was eight. At the age of 10, he became the janitor of his church. He used the money he earned to buy store-bought shirts since the only ones his parents were able to provide were made from feed bags
Gill worked hard in school and studied late at night. He began to develop an interest in chemistry and cleaned out a garage storage room for his laboratory. In high school, he worked his way up at the local grocery store to the position of checker, where his nearly photographic memory helped him to remember all the prices.
After graduating near the top of his class, Gill and a friend moved to Beaumont, Texas, to work near Lamar University-a school Gill felt he could afford. He worked at a grocery store 40 hours a week while earning a degree in four years in chemistry and engineering. While in college, Gill read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, a turn-of-the century philosopher. The book outlined eight characteristics necessary for a rich life: ambition, awareness, curiosity, enthusiasm, patience, perception, perseverance, and positiveness. Gill fully adopted Napoleon Hill's ideas.
Graduating with honors in both chemistry and engineering, Gill won teaching assistantships and fellowships, which paid for graduate school at Indiana University. He passed all the exams that would allow him to bypass a master's program and earned his Ph.D. in four years.
His first job after finishing his education in 1963 was as a scientist and engineer for Monsanto. At Monsanto he continued his research and, using his engineering background, designed chromatography instruments. In 1965, Gill took a job in California as vice president of research and development for Wilkins. Later, the company was acquired by Varian Associates. "These were the fledgling days of Silicon Valley," says Gill. "It became a mega event; the world's greatest business experiment. It was an incredible experience and I was lucky to be there from the beginning."
Still, Gill was making little money. He decided to found his own company to start his entrepreneurial career. His company, Autolab, made the world's first microprocessor-based computers for use in laboratories. After three years, the company merged into Spectra Physics Inc., and Gill served as group president and co-COO. He left at the age of 40 and founded Vanguard Venture Partners, today one of the nation's leading high-tech venture capital firms.
While Gill remains active in Venture Capital and Angel investing, he now focuses on teaching courses on leadership and entrepreneurship at Harvard Medical School, MIT and Rice University.
Jack Gill strongly believes that education plays a critical role in determining success. "Education," he says, "provides the best opportunities for personal growth and development, career and professional achievement, income and family security, and success in building satisfying relationships. It is all the enablement a person ever needs." In 1997, the Gill Foundation of Texas was established to further the family's interest in and support of educational philanthropy.
Pleased with his Horatio Alger Award, Gill says, "I admire and respect the Association's focus on helping young people get their education." That’s why we support over 200 college scholarships in six states through the Gill Foundation and the Horatio Alger Association.