Harold B. Matzner

Class of 2017

  • Chairman CBA Industries Inc.
  • Chairman CBA Insert Distribution Systems, Inc.

Never give up, never quit.

Harold Matzner was born in 1937, in Newark, New Jersey. His father worked for the Works Progress Administration, which provided low-paying public works jobs to those who were unemployed. "We had shelter and food, but nothing came easy for my parents at that point in time," says Matzner. "The country was working its way out of the Great Depression, and my father only had a third-grade education. But we had shelter and food, and we were grateful for that. My father never complained about his job."

Matzner and his parents lived for a time with his maternal grandfather, an Orthodox Jewish cantor and Hebrew teacher, in a fifth-floor, walk-up apartment. Matzner describes his mother as "loving and overflowing with goodness." He says, "My mother's mother died when she was young, and her father put his three children in an orphanage. He later remarried, and the kids were brought back home, but I always felt sorry for my mother that she had to go through that. I think she believed religion was more important to her father than his children. All I know is that once we moved out of his apartment, we stopped being Orthodox."

Matzner's father eventually became a minority owner in a printing company. "My father was actually a good salesman," he says. "He was good looking, outgoing, and had a great sense of humor. People liked him. I followed him around and spent a lot of time with him in the printing shop. In those days so much of printing was done manually. I spent hours as an eight-year-old walking around a table collating pieces of colored paper. I grew to believe that work is a good discipline. I learned at an early age that the more effort you put into your work, the more success you experience."

Matzner worked a variety of jobs in his youth, including selling seeds and dog food door to door, a paper route, and helping in his father's print shop. He loved sports and played baseball and football his spare time, and was always the fastest runner in his class. This helped him on those days when bullies would chase him home. "They never caught me," says Matzner. "I finally confronted the main bully, and we had a fight at school. We both got suspended for two days, but the bullying stopped after that."

Matzner struggled in school, which he later learned was a result of his undiagnosed dyslexia. He also believes his father was dyslexic, which explained his early departure from school. "There was no one I could talk to about my disability," says Matzner. "On top of that, I'm left-handed, and they tried to make me right-handed by tying my left hand behind my back. That just made everything more confusing and difficult. It made me feel like I was different from the other kids. But I never gave up on myself. I knew I was smart, and I had self-confidence. I believed that I could do well in business, but I knew I would have a hard time in college, so I let go of that idea. But looking back on my learning troubles, I feel that I have done better than if I'd been labeled learning disabled. My condition forced me to figure things out on my own and to solve problems in a more creative way. I actually think it has helped me in many ways."

Matzner graduated from high school in 1954, and then apprenticed in the sports department of the New York World-Telegram while continuing working in his father's printing business. He traveled with the New York Yankees and had a few of his reports published, but by 1958, he felt he was not talented as a sports writers and decided to change vocations. "I just didn't want to be mediocre in my career," he says. "I knew as a writer I would never be as good as I wanted to be."

Matzner has always been willing to learn from others and found that successful people were happy to help him if he showed an interest in their enterprise. He easily engaged businessmen in conversation and asked countless questions to learn more about their operations. In 1958, at the age of 21, Matzner met the man who pioneered cooperative supermarkets, a membership of individually owned and operated markets gathered under the name ShopRite. Matzner was charged with figuring out a way to support the stores with targeted advertising.

Matzner conceived the idea of free weekly advertising newspapers that were sent to every home in a specific region. When the idea worked, he became the owner and primary salesman of the paper, which developed into CBA Industries, Inc. Matzner increased the circulation of his newspaper to 250,000 a week using several mastheads to create a free newspaper group with distribution throughout three New Jersey counties. His newspapers were very successful and led to the concepts of shared mail and private saturation distribution. This success allowed him to open other markets, the first being 8 million homes of shared mail and private saturation distribution in the state of California. Eventually, CBA became the most successful private delivery company in the country.

"When I put my concept into play nearly 60 years ago," says Matzner, "everyone told me paid newspaper circulation was the only way to go. Newspapers were strong then, so I had a battle for my free distribution idea. Ultimately my concept won the war. I found a niche that nobody else believed in, but I guess the important thing was that I believed in it."

Matzner's lifelong philosophy has always been to "never give up, never quit." He worked hard to deliver a product that fulfilled the needs of both advertisers and shoppers at a high level of excellence. In defining success, he says, "For me it is setting an ambitious goal, achieving it, and feeling good about the way you accomplished it. And in dealing with my employees and clients, I try to be fair, kind, and loyal."

A strong believer in the American Dream, Matzner says, "I don't believe that I could have accomplished all that I have in any country other than America. There are always opportunities here for entrepreneurial people who have a good product and are willing to work. It takes determined commitment, but it is very doable."

Honored and humbled by his Horatio Alger Award, Matzner says, "Nothing is more important than helping young people who are struggling financially to get an education because they are the future of our country."

Matzner became one of the largest philanthropists in Palm Springs, California. He has contributed more than $60 million to area nonprofits since 1997, and is primary dedicated to the visual and performing arts, education, and health and wellness. "If you are lucky enough to be able to give back in a big way, it's a wonderful feeling," he says. "But I believe anyone can give back, even if all you can give is time."

Matzner has chaired the McCallum Theatre, Palm Springs Tennis Club Members Association, and the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Awards Gala, and he has served as executive vice chairman of the Palm Springs Art Museum. He has also served as a board member of the Eisenhower Medical Center as well as the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center. As a community activist, Matzner led the creation of Palm Springs's Measure J, a tax increase that helped to fund the city's downtown revitalization program and to rebuild its infrastructure.