Thomas V. McKernan Receives Horatio Alger Award

Corporate Information

Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals and encouraging youth to pursue their dreams through higher education, today announced that Thomas V. McKernan, chairman of the board of the Automobile Club of Southern California, will be inducted as a Member of this prestigious Association next spring.  Mr. McKernan joins eleven other outstanding business and civic leaders from across North America in receiving this honor.  Since its inception in 1947, this annual award has recognized exceptional leaders – all with a commitment to philanthropy and higher education – who have overcome significant personal challenges to achieve success. 


Raised in Arcadia, CA, as the oldest of six children, Mr. McKernan was encouraged to work at a young age to pay for his expenses.  Taking this to heart, Mr. McKernan had multiple paper routes, worked as a “box boy” for Alpha Beta Market and loaded trucks at a warehouse. After high school graduation, Mr. McKernan studied in a seminary but left after a year.  He worked a variety of jobs, but none allowed him to pursue higher education until he joined the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) in 1966 as a service representative. Over the next several years, Mr. McKernan worked by day and attended Cal State University, Los Angeles at night, earning a degree in business and information systems and an MBA in finance.  He also received his advanced MBA from Claremont Graduate University.  After two decades at the Automobile Club of Southern California, Mr. McKernan became its CFO in 1985 and was subsequently promoted to executive vice president in 1990 and CEO in 1991.  During his tenure, he led the national effort for AAA consolidation and the launch of its insurance program.  Today the organization operates in 21 states and comprises nearly one-third of AAA franchises.  Under his leadership, membership tripled to 14 million, insurance premiums quadrupled and assets grew fivefold.  He retired after 46 years and is now chairman of the board for the Automobile Club of Southern California.


“The accomplishments of Mr. McKernan are noteworthy in and of themselves,” said Tony Novelly, president and CEO, Horatio Alger Association and 2000 Horatio Alger Award recipient.  “But when you see the hard work and perseverance it took to achieve such outstanding success, it means much more.  We are very proud to welcome Mr. McKernan into the Association and we have no doubt he will be an exceptional role model for all of our Scholars.”


Mr. McKernan has served on the Los Angeles Orthopedic Hospital Board of Directors (Chair 1996-1998) and Los Angeles Orthopedic Hospital Board of Trustees.  He has also served on the boards of the Los Angeles Urban League, Los Angeles Police Foundation and the Orange County Performing Arts Center (Chair 2008-2011).  In addition to his non-profit leadership roles, he has been involved with the California Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Mr. McKernan has been recognized with awards such as an Honorary Doctorate from Pepperdine University, the Spirit of Achievement Award and the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Award.


In accepting this honor, Mr. McKernan commented, “As an individual who values education and worked hard to pursue my own degrees, I am deeply honored to be recognized by Horatio Alger Association and to be included with such outstanding Members.  I look forward to promoting the pursuit of higher education and to assisting with the Association’s efforts in support of deserving young men and women across this great country.” 


Mr. McKernan and his cohort will officially be inducted as Members during the Association’s annual three-day induction ceremonies, which will be held in Washington, D.C. in April 2014.  In addition to honoring these outstanding leaders, Horatio Alger Association will also recognize its 2014 National Scholarship recipients, providing an opportunity for Scholars and Members to meet and exchange stories of their respective perseverance and success.


In addition to presenting its annual award, Horatio Alger Association administers one of the largest, privately-funded scholarship programs for at-risk students in the United States and Canada.  Funding for its scholarships, which annually provides more than $9 million to selected students in need, is wholly supported by private donations from Association Members and friends.  


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