2008 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"You can be very successful with a little PEP: Persistence, Education/ Entrepreneurship, and Passion."
Robert J. Schlegel was raised on a small farm in rural Ontario, Canada. His parents were from a Mennonite religious heritage and his relatives had been farming in Canada since the early 1800's. Farming resources were limited, but his loving parents were always quick to share with others in need. Robert attended elementary school in a rural, one-room schoolhouse. He arrived on his very first day of school in a body cast because of a broken neck from an accident on the farm. When Robert was in the second grade, his family's home burned down. The following year, he was severely mauled by two Great Danes. His brother rescued him, but Robert's convalescence included multiple stitches and an extensive stay in the hospital.
Robert faced new difficulties when he left the small elementary school to attend a large community high school. He had to repeat, or do some post-graduate work as he likes to say, in the ninth grade. At a young age, Robert demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit by selling garden seeds, jack-knives, and first-aid kits to neighbors, and then at the age of 13, he purchased a Pepsi machine with a loan guaranteed by his father, which was installed at the local equipment repair shop. This is where Robert first learned the importance of cash flow! After struggling through 10th grade, Robert considered dropping out to become an auto mechanic. However, being skilled in math and accounting, he was 'encouraged' to persevere in school by his mother and guidance counselor. Robert was the first member of his family to attend college. To pay his way, he lived at home and worked on the family's farm as a mechanic. In 1972, Robert graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a bachelor's degree in economics, and soon thereafter, married his high school sweetheart, Myrna, who had just earned a registered nursing degree. Both Robert and Myrna later received Honorary Doctorate degrees from Wilfrid Laurier University.
Mr. Schlegel began his accounting career at Peat Marwick & Mitchell. After passing the certified public accounting exams and completing the mandatory three-year internship, he started his own accounting firm. Five years later, Mr. Schlegel sold his business and home to put a down payment on two small nursing and retirement centers in Texas. For almost six years, the family commuted between Dallas and Toronto before relocating to Dallas in 1985. Their business ultimately expanded to include 15 centers with 2,200 beds and more than 2,000 employees. He and Myrna sold this business 15 years later and started a charitable foundation.
In 1980, Mr. Schlegel and a partner launched the Pavestone Company, which manufactured concrete landscape products. The company's mission is to 'Improve the Landscape' of America. While this new venture initially prospered, it suffered during the real estate, oil, and banking slumps during the late 1980's. His partner left the company, but Mr. Schlegel fought to keep it going. The business rebounded, and today, the Pavestone Company has 20 manufacturing locations throughout the United States, employing more than 1,600 people. Their products are sold in more than 40 states with annual sales of more than $400 million.
In 1994, Robert and Myrna Schlegel founded the Schlegel Horizon Foundation to promote education and entrepreneurship. The many grants they have awarded include financial support to build a Christian high school in Dallas and major sponsorship of capital campaigns benefiting Southern Methodist University and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. They also established the Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. Robert is also involved with the Salvation Army, Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business, and the Library of Congress' James Madison Council, among many other causes. The Schlegel family's philosophy has always been, 'To whom much has been given, much will be required.'
Robert Schlegel's numerous awards and honors include receiving the Ernst and Young 'Entrepreneur of the Year' Award, the Humanitarian Award from the National Research and Medical Center, the Tom Landry Award for Excellence and Volunteerism, the Outstanding Philanthropist Award for 2002 from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and induction into the Texas Philanthropy Hall of Fame in 2002. This year, he was honored with the SIFE Champion of Students in Free Enterprise Award and the MDA Merit Award. However, Mr. Schlegel considers his greatest honor being recognized, in 2002, as Dallas' 'Father of the Year.' He and Myrna have been married for 35 years. They have four children, ranging in age from 18 to 31, and one grandchild, all of whom continue to be the pride and joy of his life.