1965 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"I had a driving ambition to do better. I wanted to show everybody that I could do better."
The son of Italian immigrants, Jeno Paulucci was raised during the Depression in Hibbing, Minnesota, where his father operated a small grocery store. To help his family's meager finances, Paulucci sold iron ore samples to tourists visiting the area. He also collected coal around the railroad tracks to help keep his family warm. When he was 12, he worked in a local grocery store, where he hawked fruits and vegetables for $3 a week.
After graduating from high school, Paulucci attended junior college with plans to become a lawyer, but he decided he could earn more money buying and selling food. He cut a deal with a wholesaler in St. Paul to sell groceries in Minnesota's Iron Range region. To launch his business, he lived out of his 1929 Ford, selling products by the carload to local grocers. He slept in the car and used gas station bathrooms to wash and shave.
Paulucci built his business and expanded his territory. Eventually he ventured out on his own by borrowing $2,500 to rent a Quonset hut, where he experimented with making canned Chinese food. That business became Chun King. He went on to create, finance, or lead more than 50 privately held companies and organizations in a career spanning 70 years of entrepreneurship. His energy and creativity revolutionized the foods industry. He pioneered domestication of wild rice on his 5,000 acres of Wilderness Farms in northeastern Minnesota; launched RJR Foods Inc. (later RJR-Nabisco) as its founding chairman, and is the creative mind behind dozens of patents for processes to prepare and package foods. Paulucci's Luigino's, Inc., producers of Michelina's and Budget Gourmet brands, is one of the world's leading packers of frozen entrees.
In 2002, Paulucci was named United States Entrepreneur by Ernst & Young, and in 2003 was inducted into the World Academy of Entrepreneurs in Monaco. In 2005, he was honored for his entrepreneurship, activism, and leadership among tens of thousands of entrepreneurs worldwide over the past two decades.
Paulucci is the founder the Minnesota Organization for Economic Education. He also founded the National Italian American Foundation. Paulucci and his family are the developers of Heathrow, a new city of 10 square miles in central Florida.
Paulucci says, "Success is measured in what kind of reputation you leave behind-your children and grandchildren, and what you did for your community, your state, and your nation."