2007 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"There is no substitution for hard work and maintaining the highest principles of integrity."
Richard Rosenberg was born at the height of the Depression in 1930 in Fall River, Massachusetts. His father had been a senior manager in a department store, but lost his job during the nationwide economic crisis of the early 1930s. "When the Depression hit, my father not only lost his job and their home, he lost his spirit," says Rosenberg. "I don't think he was ever the same again. My childhood was a difficult time for my parents. My mother was discouraged and my father was distant. They were kind people who adhered to their values, but they were beaten down by their circumstances."
When World War II began, Rosenberg's father went to New York City to work in the shipyards. His mother worked as a sales clerk in Fall River dress shops. Rosenberg was a good student and planned on going to college. To earn the tuition for school, he began spending his summers working as a waiter in the resorts of the Catskills and Adirondacks. "I paid my way through college with those jobs," says Rosenberg. "It was great because I had free housing and food so the money I earned was almost pure profit."
Rosenberg attended Suffolk University in Massachusetts. He had been one of the editors on his high school newspaper and wanted to be a journalist. After his freshman year, he got a job with the Massachusetts Heart Association in their public relations operation writing news releases. Following his graduation in 1952, he went on active duty with the Navy. He trained as an officer and served in Korea and Vietnam. "I thrived in the Navy," says Rosenberg. "It was the first situation I had encountered that was a true meritocracy. The Navy taught me management skills and gave me enormous self-confidence." Rosenberg stayed in the reserves after active duty and retired as a commander.
After five years of naval service, Rosenberg used the GI Bill to finance a master's degree in business administration; he also earned a law degree from Golden Gate University at night. He passed the California bar exam, but since he was already working for Wells Fargo Bank, he decided to stay with banking rather than starting over in a new career. Soon, he became Wells Fargo's youngest vice president and developed a reputation as a marketing "whiz." After 22 years at Wells Fargo, he left to serve as president and chief operating officer of Seattle-First National Bank and Seafirst Corporation. In 1987, he joined Bank of America and served as that organization's chairman and CEO from 1990 to 1996. Under his leadership, Bank of America significantly strengthened its operations and achieved record earnings, becoming the second largest bank in the United States.
When asked about the success he has achieved, Rosenberg says, "I measure success in two ways. First, the degree to which I have made those who have been associated with me successful in their own endeavors. Second, the opportunity I have to engage in 'giving back.' Philanthropy is very important to me and gives me and my wife a great deal of satisfaction."
Looking back over his career, Rosenberg says there is no substitute for hard work. "It is important to continue to prepare yourself for the opportunities that will come and which can only be achieved through hard work. I believe that each day you ought to do the very best you can in whatever activity you are associated with and do it with the highest standards of integrity."
Flattered and honored by his Horatio Alger Award, Rosenberg is intrigued by the idea of serving as a role model to Horatio Alger Scholars and supporting them in their pursuit of higher education. "Getting an education is clearly the best way to overcome economic adversity these days," he says. "My education gave me a chance to achieve both economic success and the opportunity to give back to the community in a significant fashion and I look forward to helping others do the same."