1989 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"View change as a challenge, not a threat."
Born in 1924, Romeo Ventres was the fifth of six children in his family, and the first to be born in the United States. His father had come to America at age 14 to work in the Pennsylvania coal mines, and then returned to Italy to marry. After four children were born, he came back to this country and found work as a plasterer. Two years later, he sent for his wife and children.
Getting an education was paramount to Ventres's parents. He was allowed to work each summer in factories or construction jobs, but during the school year, he had to concentrate on his studies. He worked at a local foundry to earn the tuition at Worcester Polytechnic. He was the first in the family as well as his neighborhood to attend college. After two years of college, Ventres joined the Navy in 1944. After World War II, he returned to Worcester with the help of the GI Bill. He graduated in 1948 with a degree in chemical engineering.
After working seven years as an engineer for Atlantic Refining, Ventres took his wife and three children to Baghdad for two years. He trained Iraqis in the operation of their oil refineries under a U.S. government program. Upon their return to the United States in 1957, Ventres joined Borden as assistant chief engineer. Seventeen years later, he became executive vice president of a specialty chemical company. He rejoined Borden five years later as a vice president. Within six years, after serving as a division president and corporate executive vice president, Ventres was elected president and COO of Borden, Inc., in 1985. He became CEO in 1986 and chairman in 1987. Under his direction, Borden strengthened its position as the world's largest dairy company. He led the company in a spurt of targeted acquisitions that increased sales more than 50 percent. Ventres continued as CEO until November 1991 and as chairman until March 1992, at which time he retired at age 67.
Ventres has met many successful people who rose from the humblest occupations to positions of power. In all cases, according to Ventres, their success was a result of doing the best with what life presented them, working hard, keeping faith, and having integrity. "Successful people," he says, "glow with the courage, confidence, and inner peace that follow when you do your best with what you're given. They have a hunger to live a meaningful life."
Of his Horatio Alger Award, Ventres says, "This award is most satisfying because it recognized not only me, but all those who helped me achieve in life-my parents, my siblings, my wonderful wife and family, and my friends."