1994 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"You must be self-motivated. Those who go ahead and put in time and effort will succeed in whatever they undertake."
Although he was born in Czechoslovakia, Robert Schwartz moved with his parents to the United States when he was 18 months old and settled into an eastern European ethnic community in Philadelphia. His parents had little formal education, but they instilled in their son a strong sense of traditional family values, hard work, and discipline.
By the age of eight, Schwartz was delivering newspapers and selling hot pretzels on the street, earning a one cent profit on each pretzel sold. When he was 11, his family moved to a dairy farm in Bucks County, outside Philadelphia. His daily chores included milking cows, feeding chickens, and taking care of horses. In high school, he supplemented his parents' income by selling real estate. Following high school, Schwartz entered Penn State, where he majored in commerce and finance. To pay his way, he served as treasurer of his fraternity and worked as a caterer. He graduated in 1949 and joined Metropolitan Life (MetLife) as an internal auditor. In 1950, he joined the Army and served in the Korean War in the Finance Corps. He rejoined Metropolitan Life in 1952. He also enrolled in New York University and earned an MBA. He transferred to MetLife's securities investment area and was appointed an officer in 1962. He became a senior vice president in charge of the corporate investments department in 1975. Four years later, he was responsible for the company's entire investment portfolio. In 1980, Schwartz was elected to MetLife's board of directors as vice chairman and also was named chairman of the investment committee. In 1983, he was elected chairman and later was named president and CEO.
Throughout his career, Schwartz has enjoyed taking time with young people, especially those fresh from business school. His advice to them is to "find something you enjoy, commit to it, and stay focused. The difference between those who succeed and those who settle for less comes down to desire. You have to enjoy what you're doing. If you don't, you should do something else. Those who put in the time and effort will succeed in whatever endeavor they undertake."
After more than 40 years with MetLife, Schwartz retired as the company's chairman, president, and CEO in 1993. Reflecting on his days growing up in Philadelphia and Bucks County, Schwartz says he could not have imagined the heights he would reach in the business world. "I came from rather humble beginnings," he says, "but I had the motivation to succeed. I feel good about it today in terms of my peers, who had much more opportunity but didn't really seek it or reach out for it. But the success I've had was not all my own making. It was a combination of a family effort."