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1986 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Thomas S. Monaghan

The Ave Maria Foundation

"Second place isn’t good enough."

Thomas Monaghan was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1937. When he was four, his father died on Christmas Eve. His mother, a nurse, was unable to keep her job and raise her two young boys so she placed them in foster care. Two years later, she moved them to St. Joseph's Home for Boys, an orphanage run by nuns. At 12, Monaghan moved back in with his mother, but the arrangement did not work out and he was sent to board on a local farm. He worked there and eventually supported himself.

During his sophomore year of high school, Monaghan entered a seminary, but his undisciplined behavior got him expelled before the end of the year. In his junior year, his mother put him in a house of detention. Rescued by his father's relatives, who took custody of him, Monaghan lived with them while he finished high school in Ann Arbor. His dream was to go to the University of Michigan and become an architect. He was accepted by the school, but he couldn't afford to attend. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and planned to later use the GI Bill to help pay for his college education.

In 1959, Monaghan began at the University of Michigan. To cover expenses, he managed three newspaper delivery jobs. That first year, he and his brother borrowed $900 to buy Dominick's, a small pizza shop in Ypsilanti. He thought the business would pay his way through college. Eight months later, he traded a second-hand Volkswagen for his brother's share of the business and started building what is today the nation's largest chain of pizza stores.

He opened stores in Ann Arbor and Mt. Pleasant, but he was forced to change the name of his business when the original owner threatened to sue for the use of his name. He chose "Domino's" because it wasn't too different from the original business name. Monaghan's strategy of delivering hot, fresh pizzas within 30 minutes, and locating his stores near colleges and military bases, quickly paid off and Domino's experienced phenomenal growth. Today, it is the number one pizza delivery company in the United States and operates in more than 50 countries. Monaghan sold Domino's Pizza in 1998 for $1 billion.

More recently, Monaghan has devoted himself to philanthropy through his organization called The Ave Maria Foundation, which benefits Catholic charities.

Monahan says, "No matter what an individual decides to become, hard work and determination are very important in today's competitive world. You may encounter hardships along the way, but you must not get discouraged so that you can push on to fulfill your goals. I have five priorities in life and they are: spiritual, social, mental, physical, and financial. These priorities have guided me and hopefully will continue to do so."

Monaghan says his Horatio Alger Award recognizes his ability to set goals and stick with them until they are achieved. "When you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything."