1990 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Have faith in yourself and be willing to work toward a goal. Successful people enjoy what they do because they have discovered something that fits."
John Portman, one of six children in his family, was born in 1924 in Atlanta. His father worked with the U. S. Government during the Depression, and his mother owned and operated a beauty salon. At the age of 12, Portman sold The Saturday Evening Post and Liberty magazines on the street. He also organized other children to sell gum and candy at the local theaters.
In the ninth grade, Portman took a mechanical drawing class and knew what he wanted to do with his life. "I took to it like a duck to water and from that experience decided I wanted to be an architect," he says. After high school, Portman attended the U. S. Naval Academy until World War II ended in 1945, at which time he transferred to the Georgia Institute of Technology. As a married student and father, he worked at various jobs to support his family and put himself through school.
After a three-year apprenticeship, Portman opened his own architectural firm in 1953. That small office evolved into a global organization with branch offices in India and Shanghai. Under Portman's leadership, the company has had notable impact on the skyline of Atlanta and the urban core of other cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Times Square in New York, Singapore, and Shanghai. He launched Peachtree Center in Atlanta, a 13-block development that includes the Marriott Marquis, Westin-Peachtree Plaza, the Hyatt Regency, eight office towers, and a retail mall. His most recent addition to Atlanta's skyline is SunTrust Plaza and the adjacent SunTrust Plaza Garden Offices.
An accomplished and active artist, especially through painting and sculpture, Portman believes that the interplay of art and architecture is essential. He repeatedly reflects his philosophy in his buildings, which is epitomized by SunTrust Plaza. The John Portman: A Retrospective Exhibition of paintings, sculpture, and furniture designs was the subject of a yearlong exhibit at the SunTrust Plaza Gallery.
A Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, he received the 1978 National AIA Medal for Innovations in Hotel Design. Active in numerous civic, cultural, and business organizations, he was Atlanta's Honorary Consul to Denmark for more than 30 years.
Portman says, "Success comes from an ability to see, believe, and pursue life's opportunities with determination and conviction." He believes that our current generation of young men and women may be among the most entrepreneurial we have yet seen. "They are capitalizing on innovations and technologies no one dreamed of a decade ago. Still, my advice is to see possibilities in situations others find unpromising, then create results that exceed your own expectations. Don't overlook the obvious. Prepare for the unexpected. Don't be afraid to fail. Never give up. Always believe in yourself."
Portman says his Horatio Alger Award is "a significant honor. Individuals rarely achieve great success without surrounding themselves with great talent. Still, to serve as a symbol of the values of Horatio Alger is among the greatest honors I have received."