Born: St. Rose, Ill., a farming community of 240 people
Education: I don’t have the Harvard MBA. They tried to kick me out of high school, but I stayed just so I could get my diploma. I didn’t make it to college. I took a couple of classes at night, but I was going through the wrong course at the time. I was a product of the ’60s you can read into that what you want.
What’s the best lesson that you’ve learned?
Never quit. You never know what’s right around the corner. When we were doing Meris Laboratories (a predecessor company Varel founded in the health care industry), I had a small amount of savings, and I had just bought a new house and Mercedes. I was sitting on top of the world. I hired five people we were going to go syndicate Meris Laboratories ... Everyone said this is going to be simple ... and this is going to be a no-brainer. Well, six months later, we hadn’t sold one share in a minimum operation of 120 shares that were necessary. My five guys quit. My partner quit. My savings were gone. I had to sell my house. I was living off my credit cards. But I knew it was still a very viable idea. The last six months of 1983, I single-handedly put 129 doctors together to form the first phase of the Meris Laboratories. If I hadn’t of done that, I would have taken a completely different road. That was the money that allowed me to buy a vacation home on the North Shore of Oahu, which eventually became our home. That gave me the nest egg to be able to do the next business syndication. I could have quit when everyone else quit, when 5,000 doctors said no to every one of my employees and partners. I just said, ‘There’s no alternative. We have to get it done,’ and I did it myself.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was going to be a movie star when I was kid, but I just went too far. I hit the surf instead. I was certain that was going to be my destiny in my life. Then I realized I wasn’t that good looking. So I didn’t even try. I wanted to be Jimmy Stewart when I grew up. I still do.