1977 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"If you put in a total effort, the rewards will come."
J. Ira Harris was born in 1938 in the Bronx, New York. He began working when he was only eight, selling newspapers door to door. He was so successful in this enterprise that he won his first sales contest.
During high school, Harris's mother became ill. She had always wanted to see her son go to college, but she was not expected to live long enough for that to happen. Harris worked hard and graduated in 3-1/2 years. At the age of 16, he began his higher education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It was one of the few quality schools that accepted freshmen in the spring semester. In this way, he had granted his mother's last wish. She passed away at the end of his first semester in college.
Harris worked his way through school in a variety of jobs. He delivered laundry, served as a waiter in a sorority house, and refereed intramural sporting games. In 1959, at the age of 20, he graduated and began his financial career selling mutual funds door to door in New York City. In 1961, he joined Granbery Marache and Company, the predecessor of Blair and Company, as a securities salesman. His research reports soon developed a strong following among leading institutional investors.
In 1964, Blair sent him to Chicago to revive their faltering Midwest operation. The 26-year-old Harris soon turned the Chicago and Midwest office into a leading moneymaker. In 1969, Salomon Brothers offered him a partnership, making him the first outsider brought in from another firm in that capacity. Through his expertise in corporate mergers and acquisitions, Harris brought major new clients to the firm.
Recognized as one of the nation's most creative investment bankers, Harris is acknowledged to have advised on some of the most creative and important corporate deals. In 1988, he joined Lazard Freres & Company as a senior partner and member of its management committee. In 1998, at the age of 60, he established J. I. Harris & Associates, a financial consulting firm.
Recently Harris said, "Hard work, ambition, and self-confidence all play a role in success. My parents pounded that work ethic into me. They taught me that if you put a total effort into something, the rewards would come. Still, you must have patience. It takes time to accomplish things. You have to be willing to put in the time to learn. The Horatio Alger Association recognizes people who are able to do that. Being a member of the Association is one of my most cherished awards."