1978 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"If you do your job better than anyone else, you'll be the one who moves ahead."
Louis Menk was born in Englewood, Colorado, the oldest of four children. The family moved to Denver, where all was well until he was 13. At that time, his three-year-old sister and a younger brother were badly burned in two separate accidents in one year. The resulting medical bills and the Depression put a severe strain on the family's finances. A brakeman for the Union Pacific Railroad, Menk's father spent the rest of his life paying the doctor bills. Lou Menk pitched in by mowing lawns, shoveling snow, selling newspapers, caddying, and working in a service station.
After he graduated from high school, Menk got a job as a messenger in the telegraph office of the Union Pacific. He started working night shifts and attending college during the day. Finally, he found it impossible to continue his education. It wasn't long, however, before he was promoted into the front office. He became president of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway in 1962, at the age of 44. He was the youngest president in the railway's history. Three years later, he was drafted as president and CEO of Burlington Lines. Later that year, he joined Northern Pacific, one of Burlington's parent companies, as president.
In 1970, a merger of five railroads created Burlington Northern, Inc., the largest single system of rail routes and the third-largest railroad in the nation. Menk was named president, and a year later became the railroad's chairman and CEO. After a 40-year railroad career, Menk stepped down from the presidency of Burlington Northern in 1978 and retired as chairman in 1981.
Menk said that luck played a big role in his success, but insisted, "I don't think it was the result of any particular talents I had. I just think if you work harder than anyone else, even if you really don't aspire to much, the rest will all come."* Deceased