1996 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Think about our values and priorities and compare them to the actual ways we spend our time. Remember what is most important—those whom we love, the wonder of nature and learning, and the greater purpose of our lives."
The son of an electrician, Mel Klein was raised in a warm, nurturing environment, although economically challenged. His parents were hard working and dedicated to their family. During union strikes, his father did whatever he could, including repairing lamps, to provide for his family.
At an early age, Klein felt a need to be economically self-sufficient. He had a paper route at the age of nine, which he operated seven days a week until he was 13. He then worked in the paper's circulation department, a job he held until his high school graduation.
Raised on Horatio Alger stories, Klein was fascinated with the idea that hard work and determination could lead to fulfillment of one's dreams. He became a dedicated student, graduated second in his class, and entered Colgate University in 1959, where he worked his way through as a messenger, waiter, and salesman.
During his freshman year at college, Klein was the only survivor of an automobile accident that was caused by a drunk driver. This had a deep impact on Klein and motivated him even more to make a positive difference with his life. He went on to lead his debate team to the New York state college championship. He also studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In 1963, he graduated from Colgate with highest honors in economics. He went on to earn a law degree from Columbia Law School. Winning the Edward John Noble Leadership Award provided Klein with a stipend toward the cost of law school.
After assisting Vice President Hubert Humphrey in his presidential bid, Klein became a senior partner of the investment firm of Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette. He originated the idea of creating capital pools for principal investing, and was the first to propose the structure that became one of the earliest direct equity investment funds that was a predecessor of leveraged buyout funds. Klein's vision transformed an important part of the structure of America's free enterprise system.
In 1988, Klein organized an equity investment partnership, GKH Partners, L.P., with Jay and Tom Pritzker and Dan W. Lufkin as his partners. Klein served as managing general partner since inception. GKH was the other bidder for RJR Nabisco and successfully closed the last large leveraged-buyout of that era, American Medical International. A number of industry-leading companies were created and built by GKH.
Klein is the Founder of Melvyn N. Klein Interests and an attorney; he is a Member of the Bar of the State of Texas and the District of Columbia. He is the author of Our Time, published by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
He is very active giving back, including serving on the Board of Visitors, the Executive Committee, and Chairing the Strategic Plans for Research Committee of the world-renown M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.