Ask alumnus and businessman Lance Calvert about success, and he’ll tell you that it’s about seizing opportunities and not letting go.
“The most successful people that I have known have been people who knew what they wanted, stayed focused and overcame obstacles. In a sense they’re plodders — always moving forward in spite of setbacks,” says Lance Calvert (’69, business). Calvert and his wife, Elena, have made a $4 million bequest to the College of Business Administration. “They don’t have to be the smartest guys in the room but they know what they want and are willing to work to get it.”
That’s a philosophy that Calvert has adhered to throughout his career, which began in high school. After his father had a series of strokes, the Market Basket supermarket in Pomona where George Calvert worked hired Lance to work as a box boy and later promoted him to clerk. “The whole plan was to get a college education and get out of the grocery business.”
Lance Calvert’s undergraduate years weren’t easy, with juggling school, a part-time job and occasional social life. Two years into college, his father died, and Calvert decided it was time to get serious about his education. After he graduated from Cal Poly Pomona, he won a scholarship for graduate studies at USC and was recruited as an entry-level manager for 7-Eleven to oversee a group of franchise stores in Orange County.
The turning point of Calvert’s career came in 1973 when he moved to Las Vegas and became the first 7-Eleven employee to franchise a store. That opportunity doubled his income, but it also doubled his responsibility – including working a nine-month stretch without a day off. When franchises could own their own slot machines, he immediately jumped on the opportunity, which brought in “phenomenal” income and also allowed him to hire managers to run his two franchise stores.
“My success came from my education, hard work, taking some risks and being at the right place at the right time. There was a lot of luck involved, but I also took the opportunity when it was there.”
When it comes to mentoring young adults, Calvert is a realist. He advises them to “go into the trash business” — essentially, to seek out opportunities that are always in demand, like supermarkets and trash companies.
“Everybody wants to be a movie director, famous, all this exotic stuff,” he says. “Don’t get hung up on the exotic, romantic professions. Just find something you like where the prospects are there for a good future.”
As a philanthropist, Calvert hopes to pay forward the benefits he received throughout his life and to help others. It’s a desire born from a combination of gratitude, responsibility and guilt — “I’m trying to buy my way in to heaven,” he jokes. Truly, Calvert hopes to do good for others and make a difference with his life.
The couple’s $4 million bequest will add to the College of Business Administration’s endowment and assist future generations of students. Previously, they donated $500,000 to the college’s building campaign to help provide a state-of the- art learning environment for today’s students.
“I benefitted greatly from the education I got at Cal Poly Pomona,” he says. “I stood on the shoulders of those who had come before me. Now is the time for others to stand on my shoulders.”
Lance Calvert adds that his main inspiration for giving back is his wife. “She didn’t make a lot of money but always tithed 10 percent to various charities. She is a much more noble person than I am.”
The Calverts hope that their giving will inspire others to do the same — one reason why the publicity-shy couple has decided not to be anonymous benefactors.
“If other people see what you’re doing, they’re more likely to do something. A lot of people who donate want to be anonymous. But if others know about it, they’re more likely to follow in your footsteps.”
(Photo: Lance and Elena Calvert.)