1979 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Find people you admire, not for the money they have, but for who they are inside."
Born in Indianola, Nebraska, Lee Flaherty was the youngest son of a farm laborer who abandoned his family when Flaherty was four. To support her three sons, Flaherty's mother worked two jobs until she remarried and the family moved to Richmond, California. Flaherty's stepfather ran a laundry service for sailors at the Standard Oil Long Wharf.
When Flaherty was eight, he took his first job selling newspapers at Kaiser Shipyards until the end of World War II. He then worked at Anderson's Drug Store after school and on weekends. He so enjoyed his work at the drug store, he seriously considered a career as a pharmacist. The advent of the Korean War changed his mind, however.
Flaherty volunteered and spent three years in the Army as a paratrooper in the 11th Airborne Division. During this time, he became the middleweight all-service boxing champion and traveled throughout the country participating in boxing tournaments, making demonstration parachute jumps, and meeting a wide variety of people. This experience convinced him that he didn't want to become a pharmacist.
After his discharge from the Army, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, under the GI Bill. He resumed work at Anderson Drug Store to fully finance his college education. In 1957, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in marketing and joined a San Francisco-based company that transferred him to Chicago. He worked in Chicago for seven years for three different promotional marketing companies, all the while believing that he had some ideas where business could be improved. In 1964, he shared his beliefs with his mother and revealed his dream of starting his own marketing agency. She mortgaged the only asset she had, a small home in California, for $8,500 so that he could start his business. He named his new agency Flair, the nickname he had in the Army, and began with a staff of three on the third floor of a dilapidated brownstone that rented for $85 per month. From the beginning, Flair prospered and within a year, Flaherty repaid the loan from his mother.
In 1965, Flaherty bought the 1883 brownstone and over the years restored it to its original Victorian splendor with the focal point being the Frances Room. The building is now called Flair House and has received eight awards, including designation as one of the Top Ten Working Environments in America and the National Gold Award for Victorian Preservation. A new five-story building is now a part of the Flair House complex. Flair has major blue-chip clients that are serviced from the Chicago headquarters and offices in New York and San Francisco. Based on a reader's poll conducted by Interactive Media Works in 1999, Flair was voted as the most admired agency in the marketing industry.
In 1977, Flaherty founded the Chicago Marathon. Today, the race attracts more than 20,000 runners and annually raises more than $3 million for the Leukemia Society of America.
When asked about his Horatio Alger Award, Flaherty says, "I firmly believe in what the Association is doing to help deserving youth receive an education. It is also an honor to be associated with such a group of outstanding Members."