Born in 1938 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Patrick Ryan grew up working at his father's car dealership and on road construction gangs in the summers. He excelled in football and won an athletic scholarship to Northwestern University. Later, he dropped out of football and began earning extra money selling personalized college scrapbooks to dorm residents. He earned $8,000 in his senior year, which he says kindled his entrepreneurial spirit.
Armed with a degree in finance and literature, Ryan turned his attention to finding a job in insurance. He joined Penn Mutual's Chicago office as a life insurance agent, but soon he developed an idea that he sold to the Continental Assurance Company of Chicago to offer insurance to auto dealerships' customers. In 1964, at the age of 26, he formed his own firm, Pat Ryan & Associates.
By 1968, Ryan's firm was selling $15 million in premiums annually. He took his firm public in 1971 to help raise capital to meet his long-term goal of diversifying to multiple insurance products. In 1976, he acquired Globe Life and four insurance brokerage businesses. In 1981, he further expanded with the purchase of the James S. Kemper insurance agencies. In 1982, Ryan merged with Combined International and Combined Insurance Company of America. Later known as Aon Corp., Ryan's Fortune 500 company became a global leader in risk management, insurance, and other products.
In 2002, Utah's Brigham Young University chose Ryan as its International Executive of the Year; he also received the Academy of Achievement's Golden Plate Award. The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations honored him with its 2006 Chicago Leadership Award for his contribution to building Chicago's international stature through corporate philanthropy, civic leadership, and business.
Ryan once said of his success, "I moved relatively quickly in my career, but I always tried to be patient and wait for the right time. It's difficult to be successful at something you don't love. You need to use a set of principles and standards to guide your personal and professional lives."
Of his Horatio Alger Award, Ryan says, "It means so much to me to be a part of this great organization. Helping young people receive a good education is especially rewarding to me."