2005 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Real success is accomplishing what others believe to be impossible."
Ron Simon, a first generation American, was born in Los Angeles in 1934. His mother and grandparents arrived in the United States from Russia in 1923 with $20 in their pockets. His father, who was born in England and raised in a fatherless home in Canada, came to the States in 1924 at the age of 17. Simon's parents worked in a sheet metal factory, where his father was the plant manager and his mother was a secretary. When Simon was born, he and his parents lived with his grandparents in a duplex in East Los Angeles . They later moved to a small house when he was five. When he was 10, Simon's younger brother was born. Unfortunately, his brother developed a brain tumor and died at the age of seven.
Simon had a paper route at the age of nine. When he was 15, his father started his own business manufacturing steel medicine cabinets. Simon's grandfather had a retail luggage store. Simon worked for both of them. "I worked one whole summer for my father and earned only $20 because that was all he could afford to pay me," he says, "but that was okay because it felt great just to be able to contribute to the start-up of his business. I also spent several school vacations working in my grandfather's shop. He taught me the basic rules of business, and how to sell and negotiate." During his teenage years, Simon embraced a strong work ethic. When he wasn't working for his father or grandfather, he spent every school vacation and break working for the U. S. Post Office delivering mail and clerking in department stores.
Simon's ultimate dream was to have his own business. Anxious to be on his own and free to make his way in the world, he viewed school as something he had to endure. But getting an education was important to his parents, and they expected him to go to college. Simon attended Los Angeles City College, where he earned a two-year degree in engineering. He worked 30 hours a week as a draftsman throughout that time. When an opportunity to join Layne and Bowler Pump Company as a junior engineer came along, he decided to take it.
After five years at Layne and Bowler, Simon joined his father's business, Perma-Bilt Industries. Under Simon's leadership, the business grew to become the largest manufacturer of bathroom medicine cabinets in the United States. Finally, in 1987, Simon sold the company, and later started RSI, which today is the largest manufacturer of cultured marble countertops, bathroom vanities, and medicine cabinets in the world. The company employs 3,400 people and has revenues in excess of $500 million.
Simon says he believes in the importance of integrity. "My word is my most cherished possession. When I tell someone I'm going to do something, I do it. I don't define success by how much money I have. For me, success is how respected you are by your family, friends, and business associates."