Born in Los Angeles in 1918, Roy Ash grew up during the Great Depression. His father was a hay and grain broker whose business soon failed. The family lived a frugal but optimistic life. Looking back on those years, Ash said the perspective he gained from that experience helped motivate him as an adult.
Ash graduated from high school when he was 16. After helping his father briefly, he was employed by the Bank of America in a low-entry position as a city cash-collection messenger, which paid $65 a month. This was the beginning of a 54-year relationship with the bank, first as an employee and later as a director.
Shortly after World War II began, Ash enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a private and, after a succession of promotions, became a captain in the Air Corps, serving in the Office of Management Control. After the war ended, he went to the Harvard Business School, graduating with an MBA and as a Baker Scholar.
After briefly working again for Bank of America at its headquarters, he joined Hughes Aircraft Company and led its finance department. In 1953, Ash, along with two friends, left Hughes to form Litton Industries, and he became its president. With a combination of acquisitions and internal growth, Litton grew to a worldwide business with more than 100,000 employees.
After winning the 1968 presidential election, Richard Nixon asked Ash to create and lead the President's Advisory Council on Executive Organization, which ultimately became known as the Ash Commission. Among the committee's recommendations was the establishment of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to encourage and help develop results-oriented leadership throughout the federal government. After Nixon's 1972 re-election, Ash was named the director of the OMB and joined Nixon's cabinet. He continued in those roles into the Ford administration.
Ash said of his Horatio Alger Award, "It recognizes people who work hard to realize their goals. I am happy to be counted among the members of such a group."