1980 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Since 12 years of age, my every morning prayer is, ‘O God, don’t let me die until I’m dead."
The youngest of four sons, Thomas Haggai was born in 1931 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to a Syrian/Lebanese father and a mother whose forebears arrived in Maine in the 1660s. Haggai's father was a Baptist minister and seminary teacher who brought home $14 a week during Haggai's early years. At the age of 12, Haggai was stricken with a life-threatening illness. When he realized he was going to live, he began his service to God and preached his first sermon in Boston, where he spent most of his childhood.
Haggai's sermons as a child often took place at Tremont Temple, one of the most upscale churches in Boston. He says, "When I preached there one month, my father would require me the next time to address a rescue mission so that I would never forget that God cares about all of His children." Haggai was allowed to speak provided he met these criteria:
1. Obedience to his parents.
2. Make all As in school.
3. Make a profit on his paper route and share that profit with his household and church.
4. Do well in baseball.
As a lad of 16, Haggai moved south to attend college on a baseball scholarship. In his first role as senior minister at a church in Rock Hill, South Carolina, 1,200 new members were added in less than five years. In 1956, he became the first senior minister of a newly established church in High Point, North Carolina. His reputation as an inspirational speaker grew so rapidly that in 1963, he made the difficult decision to resign from the pulpit and carry his ministry into the business community.
During his speaking career, Haggai was under contract with General Motors, Mayflower Movers, Belk Department Stores, and the Pentagon. While the average speaker delivers about 75 addresses a year, Haggai averaged 250. Many days during Vietnam, he would make up to 10 speeches during a 24-hour period.
From 1975 to 1977, Haggai stepped in as personnel director of the Boy Scouts of America. During this same period of time, he was elected as the first non-food member of the board of directors of IGA, Inc. When he completed his scouting position, he became non-executive chairman of IGA, and in 1986 he made another major shift in his career when he became chairman and CEO. IGA is the only global supermarketer based in the United States and includes 4,000 licensed/ franchised supermarkets in 38 countries, commonwealths, and territories.
When asked about achievement, Haggai says, "I feel you have to remain flexible enough to respond affirmatively to the opportunities that come your way. Every day we must exercise mentally, physically, and spiritually in order to be ready for those opportunities."
Haggai explains his active participation in the Horatio Alger Association simply: "The only way any of us can outlive our days upon this earth is to invest in the next generation. I believe in our youth, and the Horatio Alger Association is a wonderful way for me to express that."