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1998 Horatio Alger Award Winner

John Francis Sandner

Special Policy Advisor, Retired Chairman of the Board and Member of the Executive Committee
Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc.

"Success is built around perseverance. Never accept the facts that allow you to retreat."

Born in 1941 in an ethnic neighborhood close to downtown Chicago, Jack Sandner lived with his parents and brother in a three-room apartment heated by a pot-bellied stove. His father was a shoe salesman who worked his way up to the position of buyer. Unfortunately, by the time Sandner was 10, his father had become an alcoholic and was unable to hold a job. The family moved to a cheaper third-floor walk-up on a busy street filled with the sounds of streetcars. His mother went to work in a five-and-dime store during the day and also had a night job.

In high school, Sandner attended Chicago Vocational, which was experiencing racial problems and violence. 'You had to have your adrenaline flowing just to go through the front door of that school,' says Sandner. He had a night job as a checkroom boy and often walked his mother home from her second job. After one year of high school, Sandner dropped out. He became involved with boxing and was positively influenced by Tony Zale, the former middleweight champion of the world. Zale took a liking to young Sandner and served as a mentor. He trained him in boxing and gave him a book to read called The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. 'That book changed my life,' says Sandner.

He returned to school and graduated valedictorian of his class. He attended Southern Illinois University at Carbondale on a scholarship and worked for his meals as a hasher in the fraternity houses. He graduated with a degree in psychology and went on to earn a law degree from Notre Dame. In 1968, Sandner won the prestigious moot court competition and graduated from Notre Dame, receiving the Dean Manion and the H. Weber awards for appellate advocacy.

Sandner began his career as a trial lawyer. In 1971, he borrowed $80,000 to buy a seat on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He traded on his lunch breaks and did well enough that by 1975, he became a member and full-time trader at the Merc. He organized a trading firm and two years later was elected to the board. Within three years, he was elected chairman, the youngest in the Merc's 100-year history. Sandner was the first chairman to ever be elected to multiple terms.

'Some people say I've had a lucky life,' says Sandner, 'but nothing has ever happened in my life without a negative being attached to it first that I've had to overcome. You should never accept the facts that allow you to retreat. It was never luck for me. I had to work hard and study harder than everyone else. It takes a lot of things to be a success, and it isn't luck. It's seizing the opportunity and taking advantage of it.'