Tom Monaghan was four years old when his father died on Christmas Eve, 1941. His mother, Anna, decided she was unable to care for him and his younger brother, Jim. The founder and chairman of Domino's Pizza spent his childhood in and out of Catholic orphanages and work farms in Michigan.
"My life would've been completely different if my father had lived," says Monaghan, 60. "I remember stepping up to his casket and trying to reach in and shake him and say,"Daddy, please wake up." They had to pull me away from the coffin. I realized, even then, that my world had changed forever."
That day, Monaghan was thrust into a world that would mold not just his childhood, but his adult outlook on life. His experience might be hard to appreciate for most people who have grown up under the watchful eyes of their birth parents. But some of those who can are, like Monaghan, among the nation's best-known business leaders. They include: Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple computer, Larry Ellison, chief executive of Oracle, Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's and Andy Berlin, chairman of the ad agency Berlin Cameron & Partners. Each was adopted at an early age.
Behavioral experts say it's not surprising that these men grew up to become leaders because their early experiences with loss and abandonment might have left them with a more urgent need to know who they are, to control where they're going and to cultivate larger-than-life identities.
"Many adoptees learn about responsibility earlier in life than non-adopted children," says Sheena Hankin, a New York psychotherapist. "Achieving helps counteract the shame some adoptees feel about being left by their biological parents. In their minds, if they make themselves indispensable, it will help ensure that their adoptive parents won't give them away, as well."
Hankin points to President Bill Clinton, who was Billy Blythe until he was adopted at age 4 by Roger Clinton, as a classic example of an adoptee who grew up to be an overachiever. Clinton, like many adopted business leaders, "possesses a need to control situations; otherwise, he'd be more vulnerable to rejection and disapproval."
For Monaghan, life in the St. Joseph's home for boys shaped his adult passions for work, architecture and sports. Clocking 100-hour weeks schlepping pizzas in the early days of Domino's was nothing compared with polishing the oak floors of St. Joseph's. He'd rub them with wax-coated paper bread wrappers, then buff them by having one of his classmates sit on a blanket that he and other classmates would pull across the floors.
His appreciation of fine architecture, evidenced in the Frank Lloyd Wright museum he opened in Domino's Ann Arbor. Mich. headquarters began with wiping the carved banisters of the orphanage's ornate Victorian staircase. After-school chores kept him from playing baseball with his childhood chums, so Monaghan fulfilled his dream by buying the Detroit Tigers in 1983.