Tom Monaghan a devote Roman Catholic, founded Domino’s Pizza in 1960 and after selling the company in 1998, dedicated his time, talent and several hundreds of millions of dollars to Catholic causes, including the pro-life movement and the founding of Ave Maria University. His active opposition to abortion first made headlines in 1989 when the National Organization for Women called for a boycott of Domino’s, and more recently, in 2013, Monaghan won a court battle to stop the federal government from requiring him to provide mandatory contraception coverage to the employees of his Domino’s Farms management company. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, their your heart will be also.” For the past 3 decades, Tom’s aversion to living lavishly, despite having the financial wherewithal to have or buy whatever he wants, and instead to use his fortune to save souls, reveals where his heart is. Tom Monaghan has been extremely successful in business while sticking to his Biblical values and using his influence to further the Gospel. A wonderful example of a Giant for God.
Tom Monaghan was born in 1937, but lost his father at the age of 4 to illness. His mother struggled to manage a mischievous young Tom and so she sent him to live first with his aunt and uncle and then to the orphanage St Joseph Home for Children, where Tom spent most of his formative years. The influence of the nuns and head priest there had a lasting effect on his life, including his devotion to Catholicism, Christ and being a good person. In later years, Tom credited Sister Berarda as becoming a surrogate mother to him. Throughout his early years, Tom was a dreamer, picturing a better life for himself on his walks to and from school.
After high school, he bounced around to various jobs to raise money for college, eventually joining the military to fund his plan for a college degree. While stationed in Okinawa, Japan, he put himself on an intensive self improvement program and would build empires in his mind of his future as a wealthy and successful person. After saving up enough for college, on his release from the military, before he could enroll for the next semester, he got swindled out of all his money by an oil well investment deal gone bad. Undeterred, he, along with his brother Jim, borrowed $500 in 1960 to purchase DomiNick’s pizza so that Tom could pay his way through school. But after 8 months of long hours and very little pay, his brother wanted out. Although Jim didn’t want anything for his half, Tom paid him in the form of Volkswagen Beetle that they had used as a pizza delivery vehicle. After Jim left, Tom’s plans of getting an architectural degree from the University of Michigan fell by the wayside and Tom made the decision to commit himself heart and soul to being a pizza man.
The first thing Tom did was simplify his menu to focus on delivering pizzas to college students. It worked and he was making $400 per week after expenses. Tom saw the opportunity in expanding to other college towns in Michigan with his pizza shop concept. Tom was young, naïve and ambitious. This led him into many bad business decisions, including partnerships with people who didn’t share his vision, passion or work ethic. Over the next several years, Tom learned many hard lessons on what not to do in business. During these tumultuous times, bankruptcy loomed, the IRS threatened to lock his doors, gigantic class action lawsuits were filed by franchisees and at one point, a creditor held him a gun point to collect payment from Tom. But incredibly, despite having all the odds against him, Monaghan didn’t give up. And despite his early naïve business decisions, his core business of delivering pizzas within 30 minutes to college students was remarkably successful.
Once he was out from underneath more than 14 years of rookie business mistakes, he began to really hit his stride. He invented an insulated pizza box so that he could stack several on top of each other and the pizza would remain hot. “We were the first pizza shop to take delivery of pizza seriously,” remarked Tom. By the mid 1970s, Domino’s Pizza had over 100 different franchise locations across the United States and the future couldn’t have been brighter for Tom and Domino’s Pizza. But all that visibility generated a new problem for Tom, a trademark infringement lawsuit from Domino’s Sugar. They argued that his business was confusing grocery shoppers who thought the pizza restaurant was part of the Domino’s Sugar brand. After a long legal battle, Tom lost in court. It would have flattened almost anyone else, but not Tom Monaghan. He had been through so many years of obstacles that had tempered and hardened Tom into a resilient business person, that rather than throw in the towel and give up, Tom appealed the court’s decision. And remarkably, in April 1980, after a total of 5 grueling years of uncertainty with this intellectual property lawsuit hanging over his head, the appeals court ruled in favor of Tom.
The 1980s ushered in an unprecedented time for Domino’s Pizza. His mantra to his employees was 50% growth and however outlandish they felt it was, he pulled it off. The local press began to take notice of this rags to riches business tycoon and by 1982, it was estimated his net worth was $7 Million. When asked his thoughts on money, his response was, “Money is not evil, as so many people think. It pays for Bible and churches and hospitals.” In 1983, he purchased the Detroit Tigers, for $53 Million, the largest amount anyone had ever spent on a professional baseball team. Fortunately, in his first year as the owner, the Tigers won the world series and the “free” publicity created by the team’s success paid for itself many times over for Tom. By the late 1980’s, 54% of all the pizzas delivered in the United States came from Domino’s. Domino’s Pizza had become the dominant force in the pizza business.
Tom’s wealth exploded. He began to spend his money on cars, helicopters, boats, an island and the construction of a lavish corporate headquarters and personal mansion. He put together an autobiography, Pizza Tiger, with the help of Ray Kroc’s autobiographical collaborator Robert Anderson. He had become a symbol of all things great about America. The quintessential rags to riches entrepreneur who defied the odds to become incredibly rich. But meanwhile, deep down, there was something missing.
After reading the book Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, his behavior began to change. In reading the chapter on pride, Tom associated his ostentatious lifestyle as prideful and perhaps the real reason for buying all those toys was an inner desire to impress other people. This epiphany moved Monaghan to take, what he called, “the millionaire’s vow of poverty”, and decided to “give up the toys”. Immediately, he sold the Detroit Tigers, stopped further construction on the mansion he was building and turned his palatial office into a conference room. And this wasn’t just a short term commitment to self improvement, it became a life altering experience. For example, he hasn’t read his book Pizza Tiger since it first came out, noting that the facts in the book are exactly accurate but the tone and substance is far removed from the person he is today.
Competition began to creep up on Domino’s, especially from a PepsiCo funded company called Pizza Hut. They hired many of the talented people away from Domino’s to compete against them. In 1998, Tom sold his stake in Domino’s Pizza to the private equity firm Bain Capital for an estimated $1 Billion. He then devoted the rest of his life to blessing others. “I wanted to put my money where it did the most good and saved the most souls,” recalled Tom. So he began to think about where to deploy his vast fortune. He narrowed down his focus to higher education and since very few people had the economic wherewithal to start a university, he felt it was an obligation and a calling that he had to do. In 2003, he established the private Catholic university in southwest Florida, Ave Maria University, as well as developing a new town, Ave Maria, around the school. He made headlines, when in a May 2004 speech, Monaghan expressed his wish to have the new town and university campus be free from pre-marital sex, contraceptives, abortion and pornography, which created criticism from the international press who saw such proposed restrictions as violations of civil liberties. Although Tom wasn’t able to mandate the town completely of this vision, he was able to keep sex shops and strip clubs from operating in Ave Maria and he was able to keep his ban on contraception and porn in the university.
Many people say that they want to die broke but few take the necessary steps to do that. Tom Monaghan is doing just that. Tom is proving that his goal is to bring as many people to heaven as he can with the resources he has available to him. From his humble upbringings, to becoming one of the wealthiest people in the world, to taking a Millionaire’s vow of poverty, to creating an extraordinary institution of higher education, Tom Monaghan has lived the life of a Giant for God. To learn more about his life, read Living the Faith: A Life of Tom Monaghan by James Leonard