2012 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Never forget where you came from and be happy with what you are doing."
John Moran, an only child, was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1932. His father, who never attended college, was a self-taught accountant for a company that manufactured, owned, and operated cigarette vending machines. The Morans lived in a building with four small apartments. When John was in elementary school, his father accepted an offer from his company owners to move to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was to attempt a turnaround of their one ailing division. To save money, John’s father got rid of the warehouse and office and moved all the cigarette vending machines to the basement of the Moran home. Eventually, John’s father bought the Salt Lake City business from the parent corporation by signing a long-term note.
In 1941, when he was nine years of age, John’s first job was selling Liberty magazines door-to-door in his neighborhood for ten cents per copy. He received a penny for each magazine sold. When he turned 12, John’s father taught him the basics of accounting. He often helped his father by making entries into the business ledgers. He also helped fill vending machines. “I had a terrific relationship with my father,” says John. “He disciplined me when I needed it. He had a great influence on me. I learned a lot about business from him.”
John’s mother was a devout Christian. Rather than putting her son to bed with nursery rhymes, she read Bible stories to John when he was very young. He says of his mother, “Being an only child, she was very attentive to me. She took good care of me and later in life, barely into adulthood, I returned the favor.”
It was important to John’s parents that he attend college. Following his high school graduation in 1949, he enrolled at the University of Utah, where he majored in banking and finance. Each summer he tried to find high paying jobs that would help pay his tuition. One job was serving as a flag boy for the Salt Lake City road crew. He spent one summer rewinding Army signal wire that had been used during World War II and the Korean War. He also worked as a waiter.
When John had one more semester to go before his college graduation, his father died of cancer. John was at his father’s bedside and still remembers that with his last breath his father asked John to take care of his mother. John left school and took over his father’s business. He completed his degree by taking correspondence courses. He merged his father’s business with another vending company and John’s mother was able to live on the income she received from that enterprise.
John graduated from college in 1954 and was about to be drafted for military service. Instead, he joined the Navy and applied for and was accepted into Officer Candidate School. Stationed in Newport, Rhode Island on the Narragansett Bay, John was shocked by the cold, damp East Coast winter. He participated in a competitive course of studies and learned to appreciate the sharp discipline of the Navy. “The Navy made a man of me,” says John. “I didn’t love all the studying and pressure, but it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
During his three-year Navy service, John worked mostly as an aerial photographic intelligence officer on the staff of the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. Shortly before his release, he began writing to Wall Street firms, looking for employment. He went to New York and began interviewing with several companies. He accepted an offer from Blyth & Company, Inc., an investment banking firm, which had an opening in their Los Angeles office. He spent one year in New York and was transferred to Los Angeles. He worked his way up to a vice presidency, but left in 1967 when the Dyson-Kissner Corporation offered him a $1 million signing bonus.
John became executive vice president of Dyson-Kissner in 1974, and the following year he became president and chief executive officer. He became chairman in 1984 and retired in 1998. Today, the Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corporation is a private holding company whose international portfolio of companies has included businesses engaged in manufacturing, retailing distribution, financial services, and real estate development.
Mr. Moran believes that success came his way because he liked what he was doing. “Of course, you have to work,” he says, “and I did. I seemed to be in the right place at the right time, but I wouldn’t have worked as hard if I’d been in a career that didn’t satisfy me. I have never forgotten where I came from. Success hasn’t changed me. I treat others the way I want to be treated and it has all worked out well for me.”
When talking with young people, John Moran advises them to decide on a career as early in life as possible. “It gives you an advantage, I think, to be able to focus all your energy and drive on your career as soon as possible. I feel sorry for kids who complete college and still don’t know what they want to do. It’s better to figure out what you like to do, and then pursue it to the best of your ability.”
John Moran’s Activities and Honors
John Moran served as national finance chairman of the Republican Party and later as finance chairman of the Dole for President campaign. He also served as co-chairman of John McCain’s National Finance Committee in 2007 and 2008.
During his business career, Mr. Moran has served as a director of more than 30 corporations and philanthropic organizations. Currently, he is a member of the Wynn Resorts Board, and is a member and former chairman of the National Advisory Council of the University of Utah.
When John was a child, his mother read Bible stories to him. One story had a particular effect on him. “I have always remembered the story of the blind man on the side of the road who had his sight restored by the touch of Jesus,” he says. “I have always thought that the loss of sight would be the worst sense to lose. That’s why I have focused so much of my efforts and financial support on the John A. Moran Eye Center on the campus of the University of Utah. I want to have something to do with the victory of ending blindness. One of these days we will get there.”
In addition to serving as a director of the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah, Mr. Moran is a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as well as the George and Barbara Bush Endowment for Innovation Cancer Research at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. In 2008, he was the recipient of the Outstanding Corporate Citizenship Award from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He was the 2011 speaker at the University of Utah School of Business, Spencer Fox Eccles Convocation.