1998 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Never let the good people out of your life because they will forever turn on that next light for you."
The son of a Swedish immigrant, Dennis Holt was born near the end of the Depression in a farmhouse in Minnesota. In 1939, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Holt's father worked in the shipping yards and as a laborer. When Holt was 12, his father had a debilitating heart attack and could never work again. 'My parents had very low self-esteem,' says Holt. 'They were good people, but they were victims of the inner city.' At the time, the family lived in a boarding house and used a hot plate on which to cook their meals. They lived on milk toast, canned spaghetti, and soup. Once a week they had meat. To help with finances, Holt had a paper route and also stuffed envelopes for a penny each. To counter his father's negativism, Holt collected motivational sayings, which he pinned above his bed. He also taught himself three new words a day to expand his vocabulary.
Soon after his father's heart attack, the family's hardships came to the attention of actor Ozzie Nelson, who was also of Swedish descent. He offered Dennis Holt a job on the set of the hugely popular television show, ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.' Occasionally, Holt had bit parts on the show. His earnings enabled the family to move out of the boarding house.
School was a positive outlet for Holt. He served as student body president of both his junior and senior high schools. On the day of his high school graduation, Holt's father informed him he was expected to move out and become completely independent. Holt had a baseball scholarship to the University of Southern California, but had to stay with a friend's family for the summer while he waited for his college freshman year to begin.
After earning a degree in public administration, Holt attended UCLA's law school for a time, but left after the first semester. He began selling radio air time and worked three other part-time jobs. His hard work paid off and he accepted a job from RKO to work in a one-man office in San Francisco. He was later sent to New York to sell time on national television.
In the 1960s, Holt began his own media buying service, U.S. Media, which for the first time banded small advertising buyers to get prime-time advertising slots. It was a huge success and launched a $20 billion industry.
Four years later, he sold his business and, in 1970, started Western International Media in Los Angeles. Western International changed the nature of advertising and influenced the advertising and media practices of companies in several industries. It became the largest media management company in North America and included 40 subsidiaries. Holt sold Western in 1995. Today, he is the chairman and CEO of U.S. International Media, a full-service media management company, which he founded in 2004.
Dennis Holt's philosophy is 'The harder you work, the luckier you become. It's important to always do the right thing, never lie, and never let the good people out of your life.'