2004 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Success is having a predetermined plan and carrying out exactly what that plan is."
Born in 1932 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Harvey Mackay lived with his older sister and parents in an apartment in the city. His mother had been a schoolteacher before her children were born and, once they were school age, she worked as a substitute teacher. Mackay's father was a newspaper journalist.
Mackay describes his father as a go-to person. "If someone needed a job, they would call Jack. If someone needed special medical care, they would call Jack. He taught me to stay in touch with people. He told me to use a rolodex file to keep all the names of people I met. He instructed me to write something personal about each person on the back of their card. Then he told me to find a creative way to keep in touch with that person. Networking was one of the first and most valuable lessons I learned from my father."
Determination was another life lesson learned from Jack Mackay. "My father worked for 19 years to help free an accused murderer whom he knew was innocent. When Leonard Hankins was released from prison, my father was awarded the National Pall Mall Award for his persistence in getting the 'Big Story.' That was a good lesson."
Because his life's work was scoops and deadlines, Mackay's father insisted on promptness. "If my father said he would pick me up in eight minutes and I was one minute late, he was gone," says Mackay. "He also used to tell me you have two choices when you get up in the morning. 'You can either be optimistic or pessimistic-but it's much more fun to be optimistic.' My father died 35 years ago, but a day never goes by that I'm not quoting him for something he taught me."
From a young age, Mackay worked. He sold magazines door to door and for many years had an early morning paper route. "Of all the jobs I've ever had, my paper route taught me the most," says Mackay. "Getting up seven days a week at 4 a.m. to deliver papers by 6 taught me hard work. I learned the art of thinking about how I would reward myself with my earnings, which kept me focused on the job in front of me. I learned persistence, customer service, financial management, and accountability. Most important, I learned my No. 1 skill is the art of selling. I knew from the time I was 10 that selling would be my life's work."
In addition to his paper route, Mackay shoveled snow in the winter and cut lawns in the summer. In high school, he was a clerk in a men's store during the week and caddied on weekends at a local golf course.
Mackay attended the University of Minnesota, where he earned a degree in history. His first job out of college was working in the shipping department of an envelope company. Two years later, he was promoted to salesman. Three years after that, at the age of 26, he left to start his own envelope manufacturing company. Today, Mackay Envelope Company has sales of $100 million and 600 employees who make 25 million envelopes a day.
In 1988, Mackay decided to put all he had learned about salesmanship, management, motivation, and negotiation into a book. He called it Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive. It became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and launched Mackay's public speaking career. In addition to Fortune 1,000 companies, he addresses students at many of the nation's top business schools. In 1993, he was voted by Toastmasters International as one of the five top speakers in the world. Demands for written transcripts of his speeches convinced Mackay to put more of his thoughts and advice into book form. The result has been a host of motivational business books, including Being Eaten Alive and Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt, which have been translated into 35 languages and distributed in 80 countries. His Dig the Well before You're Thirsty made the New York Times bestseller list 12 days after its release in 1997. Mackay's most recent book, Pushing the Envelope, made the New York Times Top 10 list after its release in 1999. Worldwide, his books have sold more than 10 million copies.
Mackay says his Horatio Alger Award is the most meaningful of all the awards he has received, and he is deeply interested in the Horatio Alger Scholars program and the opportunities it provides to mentor youth. "I've never met a successful person who hasn't had to overcome either a little or a lot of adversity in his or her life," he says. "If you have to, move mountains to find a mentor. No one can do it all on their own-even the Lone Ranger had Tonto."
A prostate cancer survivor, Mackay has run 10 marathons, including the Boston and New York Marathons, in the last 15 years. He is a former No. 1 ranked tennis player in the state of Minnesota.
When asked what it takes to be successful, Mackay says you must start with a mission statement like this: "My goal is to be successful. To achieve that goal, I will never stop learning, growing, changing. End of mission statement. Hit start button to a whale of a lifetime."