1997 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Try to give more than you take."
The grandson of Russian immigrants, Ace Greenberg was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1927, but moved when he was six to Oklahoma City, where his father operated an apparel store. His parents gave him a loving home and instilled in him the values of hard work, responsibility, and charity.
An excellent student and athlete, Greenberg was a halfback on his high school football team and helped them win the Oklahoma state championship. In his off hours, he worked in his father's store. He attended the University of Oklahoma on a football scholarship, but an early injury caused him to give up the sport. He transferred to the University of Missouri and majored in business administration. Upon graduation in 1949, he headed to New York City. He dropped off a letter of recommendation from his uncle, a Wichita oilman, at five investment firms on Wall Street. Only one, Bear Stearns, offered him a position.
Greenberg started as a clerk in the oil department, but transferred to the arbitrage department within six months. He showed remarkable trading skills, and by the time he was 25 he was running the department. He became a partner of the firm when he was 31, the same year he was diagnosed with cancer. He was given only a 50 percent chance of surviving, but he faced his challenge with courage and confidence. He came out a winner in that situation, but Greenberg did not dwell on what was already in the past. He looked to the future of Bear Stearns and expanding its business.
In 1978, Greenberg was named chief executive officer of the firm, which he took public in 1985. At that time, he was named chairman and CEO. Today Bear Stearns is the seventh largest securities firm in the country.
When asked about his advice to young people just getting their start, he says it is important to choose to do something you love. "If you don't, you won't win. You compete against people who may be intellectually inferior to you, but if they like what they are doing and you don't, they will beat you every time. It's also important to be fair in your dealings. I make it a point that anyone who has dealt with me has a good taste in their mouth. To do that, I give more than I take."