1987 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Forget about your problems-look to the future."
Born in Georgia, Harry Gray lost his mother when he was six. Later, he moved with his father to Chicago. When Gray was eight, his father's business failed, causing them to move to smaller quarters where Gray slept in a closet on a rollaway bed.
After he graduated from high school, Gray worked to earn money for college. He remembered that tuition at the University of Illinois was $35 a semester and $15 for books. He was able to pay for the first semester through his summer earnings, and then got a job as a dishwasher in a fraternity to pay for the remainder of the year. The following year, he was promoted to waiter, a job that gave him free meals. He was able to secure a free room in a boarding house, where it was his job to keep the coal furnace going throughout the winter. He graduated in 1941 with a degree in journalism and immediately volunteered for service in the Army. Gray served nearly five years with the Army during World War II and was overseas for nearly four of those years. He attained the rank of captain and received numerous medals, including the Silver and Bronze Star for gallantry in action.
Upon his return, Gray returned to the University of Illinois and earned a master's degree in 1947. At that time, he was recognized with the school's highest honor, the Illini Achievement Award. Gray worked in advertising and sales before joining Consolidated Electro Dynamics in 1954. The young company, renamed Litton Industries, grew from sales of $1 million to more than $2 billion when Gray left 17 years later. Then, in 1971, he joined United Aircraft, the predecessor of the United Technologies Corporation, as president and chief administrative officer and as a chairman from 1974 until his retirement in 1986. He remained on the board of directors and served as chairman of the board's finance committee until 1987.
Gray then became chairman and CEO of Harry Gray Associates and also served as chairman of Mott Corporation. Gray said that to succeed in business, you have to like what you are doing. "You can't be a success if you dread getting up in the morning to go to work," he added. "You need to understand what is expected of you to become a leader in business and then work very hard at it. In my case, I worked hard for a number of years before I achieved what I thought was a reasonable success."
When asked for his advice to youth, Gray said, "Be sure that what you are getting ready to dedicate yourself to in business is something you respect and enjoy. Dedicate yourself to it and work hard to make a difference. Remember that each dawn is a new day. I have a painting that has that saying on it and I've adopted it as my philosophy of life: It's great to know that no matter what went on the day before, after a night's sleep you wake up to a new day full of possibilities."* Deceased