2012 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Focus now on right thought, exhibit applied Faith, and have trust in the universe. It wants to reward you."
Greg Renker, born in 1957 in Phoenix, Arizona, is the seventh of ten children. His father, an amateur tennis player who was once ranked sixth in the nation, left his home in Kansas at the age of 18 and went to find his fortune in southern California. He worked as a tennis pro and eventually began managing resort hotels. The Renker family lived a nomadic life, moving nearly every year to a new resort. “My father had a lot of ambition,” says Greg. “He was charming, good looking, elegant, and classy. His whole career was based on catering to and servicing wealthy people, but he did not have the knack of accumulating wealth for himself or his family. My siblings and I often played with wealthy kids, but we were really on the outside looking in.”
Greg’s father specialized in refurbishing and opening resort hotels, and the family moved every year from the time Greg was six to 13. Usually the moves were made after the school year started, and Greg often alternated each year between public and Catholic schools. “I had to make a lot of adjustments,” says Greg. “I was always the new boy. I always had a new system to learn. Public schools were freer, and Catholic schools were more authoritarian. But I believe these moves were positive for me. I tried hard to be likable and socially outgoing. I made friends easily.”
Greg’s mother was a devout Catholic who attended church every day. She taught her children about the importance of family and mutual support. “My mother loved my father,” says Greg. “She supported him in his ambition, but he wasn’t a success financially. She made it clear to us kids that if we wanted to achieve, we would have to figure it out on our own.”
When Greg entered the eighth grade, his father became unemployed and remained so until shortly before Greg graduated from high school. “He was at a stage in his life when he wanted to have a partner and go into business,” says Greg, “but he could never find the right opportunity. He struggled, and we orbited around his pain. For days at a time, he would find himself unable to talk to my mother and us kids. We prayed nightly ‘that Dad will find a job.’”
Throughout high school, Greg worked part time, as did all his siblings. He was a paper boy, he waited tables, and he once had a job making doughnuts in a bakery. In 1975 Greg’s father finally accepted a job, but it meant Greg had to move during his senior year in high school from San Diego to Michigan. It was one of the most difficult moves he’d ever made. He hated the cold northern winters and was determined to return to San Diego.
After graduation he moved back to San Diego, where a relative let him stay in an apartment. Greg worked to pay his other expenses and started his college education at Mesa Junior College. Eventually, as he continued to work his way through college, he transferred to San Diego State University, where he earned a degree in comparative literature.
“When I was 16,” says Greg, “I started reading self-help books, including Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and The Success System That Never Fails by W. Clement Stone. I knew that at some point I wanted to become a salesman, because you are paid by your performance rather than by the hour. I also became very interested in advertising, and I read all I could find on the subject. I paid my way through school by selling advertising on billboards and bus benches. At one point, I was responsible for the ads on 3,000 bus benches.”
Greg graduated in 1981 and teamed up with his father and cousin to run a resort in Indian Wells, California, near Palm Springs. As director of marketing, Greg’s job was to sell resort services to businesses that held conferences at the hotel. While working in that position, Greg met Bill Guthy, a member and home owner at the resort. “I soon learned that Bill’s favorite book was Think and Grow Rich,” says Greg. “We shared a mutual love for motivational books and tapes. Also, we had both been involved in Amway in previous years. That experience taught me a lot about selling, motivation, and attitude.”
Soon Greg and Bill were researching a burgeoning business and investigating selling products on television through 30-minute infomercials. They secured the cassette rights to Think and Grow Rich. Next they signed on Anthony “Tony” Robbins, a motivational speaker and author, to participate in the infomercials. In 1988 Greg invested his entire savings in the venture, which met with success. Next they put together a motivational cassette program with Tony Robbins called “Personal Power,” which was so successful it paved the way for future growth.
“There are three elements that were critical to the success I had in these ventures,” says Greg. “Number one, I was selling, which is what I love to do. Number two, I was advertising, which I also love. And third, I was selling self-help, which is my favorite topic. When you embark on a venture that involves something you love, you are willing to put a lot of energy into your work, but you never feel as if you are working.”
Today the Guthy-Renker Corporation is one of the world’s largest direct response television companies with annual sales of $1.5 billion. The company has broadened its focus into every area of electronic retailing and distributes its products in 60 countries throughout the world.
Greg is quick to point out that even though his company has had steady growth since it was launched, they have experienced many failures along the way. “There is a lot of benefit in failure,” he says. “There is so much to learn from it. It took us about one year to put together a 30-minute commercial. Most of the time, we were right about our belief that a product would sell well, but sometimes we had a flop, meaning that all the time and effort of an entire year reaped no financial benefits for us. But we never let that cause doubt or stop us from taking the next risk. We persevered through our failures, and we eventually experienced tremendous success.”
In 1998, when Greg was 41, he had emergency heart bypass surgery. At the time, the cardiologist told Greg he might not live to age 50. Greg, now 55, did not accept that prediction, however. He researched his condition and took action. He made changes to his diet and also became less intense in his approach to business. Now he strives to achieve what he calls “peace of mind” each day. “When I have peace of mind, it means my wife and children are doing well, I’m productive in my business day, I’m contributing, and I have taken care of my body by eating well and exercising. When you achieve that, then you have peace of mind—and that is something I try to achieve on a daily basis.”
Greg adheres to the philosophy of Earl Nightingale, a motivational speaker and author. He says, “Earl Nightingale studied a number of high achievers, and he defined success as the progressive realization of a worthy goal. I love that expression. It reminds me that each day I need to strive to wake up with drive to produce in business, in family, in joy, and in recreation. To achieve this I have a never-ending goal to improve my body, my mind, my spirit, and my values.”
When Greg addresses young audiences, his advice is “to have faith and trust in the universe. It wants to reward you. You will be rewarded for hard work and focus. Read voraciously about subjects for which you have a passion. Become an expert. Never stop educating yourself. Be patient and persistent, contribute. As much as possible, take control of your own destiny in your career. And understand these six words: We become what we think about. So be careful about what you allow to enter your mind. Be disciplined in your thoughts and that will enable your outcome to be what you desire—whether it’s financial success or personal fulfillment.”
Another piece of advice Greg often tells his own children is to pick their partners well. “The best decision I ever made,” he says, “was marrying my wife, Stacey. The second best decision was partnering with Bill Guthy. I tell my children their partners in life will determine the joy, peace, and prosperity of their futures.”
Greg Renker’s Activities and Philanthropy
Greg Renker co-founded the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA), has received its Lifetime Achievement Award, and serves as the chairman emeritus. He and his partner, Bill Guthy, have been included on lists such as Fortune magazine’s America’s Smartest Young Entrepreneurs, Advertising Age’s Marketing 100,Ernst & Young’s Regional Entrepreneurs of the Year, and Forbes’s Largest Private Companies.
Deeply involved in his local community, Mr. Renker serves on the board of directors and is vice chairman of the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California. He is a chairman emeritus of the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences. Mr. and Mrs. Renker’s financial contributions resulted in The Renker Wellness Center on the Eisenhower Campus as well as The Greg & Stacey Renker Pavilion, a cutting-edge 24-suite luxury in-patient facility. The Renkers’ philanthropic interests are primarily in healthcare, art, and land conservation.