Sandpoint Magazine Winter 2002 Sandpoint Magazine Winter 2002
Sandpoint Magazine

Sandpoint Magazine Winter 2002

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Frank VanderSloot eyes his family’s old tractor
Frank L. VanderSloot
President & CEO of Melaleuca, Inc.

At the helm of Idaho’s sixth-largest, privately held company, Frank L. VanderSloot, 55, has had a tremendous journey since his childhood in Cocolalla, Idaho. The 1966 Sandpoint High School grad makes his home in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where his international manufacturing company is headquartered. He oversees thousands of Melaleuca employees and marketing executives. His company generates more than $450 million in annual revenue through a sales force that reaches nearly 650,000 households across North America, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Melaleuca’s catalog contains more than 300 consumable products that are non-toxic; many contain Melaleuca oil, also known as tea tree oil.

VanderSloot, the third in a family of four children, still has ties to the area. His mother, Margaret, is 88 and lives in a log cabin close to the original farmhouse; his older sister, Luana, lives nearby as does his younger sister, Marguerite. His father, Frank, died in 1982. Married to Belinda since 1995, Frank has six children that when combined with his wife’s eight children creates a blended family of 14. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints since 1965, Frank served a two-year mission in the Netherlands and is still active in his church.

VanderSloot earned an associate’s degree in business at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, followed by a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Brigham Young University. He held key management positions with two Fortune 500 companies prior to starting Melaleuca in September 1985. Under VanderSloot’s leadership, Melaleuca has been ranked high on the Inc. Magazine list of the nation’s 500 fastest-growing, private companies and is one of only 55 companies in America to be listed as a member of the Inc. 500 Hall of Fame. Most recently, Melaleuca was awarded the 2003 Environmental Excellence Award by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. In June 2001, VanderSloot was named Ernst & Young, CNN and USA Today’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” for the U.S. Northwestern region. VanderSloot serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and was recently named regional vice-chairman for the organization.

In addition to managing Melaleuca, Frank and Belinda own several large cattle ranches. VanderSloot’s favorite activities involve his family and Idaho’s great outdoors.

How has developing Melaleuca over the past 18 years affected you personally?
Wow, it has surely given me an opportunity for personal growth ... to meet a lot of people, to work side by side with some key people and form lifelong relationships. ... Your business becomes a big part of your life. It’s certainly blessed my family financially, and it’s allowed me to visit many different countries in almost all corners of the earth. I think I have an understanding of the people of the world much better than if I hadn’t had this experience. It’s also given me a lot of opportunity to meet people in government.
I know that working so hard affected your first marriage. On a personal level, how did you bounce back and put your family where they need to be in your life?

There are so many pieces to our lives that we have to keep in balance, and sometimes when we’re so anxious to make one part of it work, you can forget about another part.
That did happen to me, although I always thought that family was important and should be held most important, right up there with your faith in God. But you can focus on something else, and I feel like I lost focus on my family. I didn’t know I was. I learned later that I was. I went through divorce, and I think that was my fault. I committed to not ever having that happen to me again. I’m married now, and between Belinda and me, we have nine daughters and five sons. ... (Divorce) was a painful experience. No one should have to go through that. It takes a lot of effort to take care of your family, and it certainly takes a lot of effort to take care of 14 kids! (laughs) My sense is that I’m doing a better job; at least my kids and my wife tell me I am.

You recently brought your management team to Cocolalla for a corporate retreat. What was the purpose and what effect did it have?
I feel like my childhood growing up there in Cocolalla on that farm really had a tremendous impact on my life, as all of our childhoods do. ... Recently, I was up there to accept an award, and I took Josh Tolman, my assistant, with me. While we were up there, we went to visit my mom and, of course, the place where I grew up. Since I had told so many stories about that place, Josh came back and told the management team: “We’ve got to go. You just all have to see Cocolalla, Idaho.” So they all agreed that’s what they wanted to do. Then they talked me into taking a camera crew along because they wanted me to tell these stories I’ve told on camera. I didn’t really end up telling too many stories on camera. We just walked through the woods and went through the old place, the barn and the house. All of it’s still there, the old farm equipment I used to run – that old Farmall H tractor. So it was a great bonding experience. I think (that retreat) gave the management team an understanding of our heritage. I believe that Cocolalla, Idaho, is our heritage from the standpoint that it shaped a lot of my beliefs.

How did your upbringing on that ranch help shape you into the businessman you are today?
I think it taught me work ethics. I think farming is a really good foundation for teaching that you reap what you sow, teaching the entire concept of the law of the harvest. ... You have to take care of things and you have to be patient. Some things aren’t in your hands, but if you’re diligent with your labors, it will pay off.

Could you explain how important family is to you and how family values affect you in business?
We’re continually trying to remind each other that we have to get home to our families. You know business can take up such a big part of our lives, that if we don’t remind ourselves that we need to keep balance, then we lose that balance. … Family is it. Family is what life is all about. If we go through life and are successful in other things but not successful in our family life, then we’ve missed the most important piece of our lives. To have an experience and not have our family members with us seems rather empty.

You tell wonderful stories about your parents. What is the greatest single lesson you learned from each of them?
From my dad I learned about hard work and the best example of honesty that any young man could ever get. He was an honest man, and he loved people and people loved him. From my mom, probably discipline. She believed in teaching us to work early on in our lives.

What role has your religion played in making you who you are today?
Wow, a big difference. I joined the LDS church when I was 17, at the beginning of my senior year in high school, and I learned that what the LDS church believes and teaches is that we’re sons and daughters of God. As such, that gives a whole new light to everything. Number one, you know that there’s someone there who cares about you, who’s on a much higher level than you are and who believes in you. You establish goals to try to be more like Him, and you learn that when you fall down, you can be forgiven. You learn that there is a purpose to all of what life is all about, and you try to exercise that purpose.

You’re the sponsor of the largest fireworks show west of the Mississippi in Idaho Falls and now also sponsor a show in Minneapolis. Could you tell me why?
Well, my love of the Fourth of July goes back to the little, tiny, homemade Fourth of July we used to do out at Cocolalla. ... That’s now grown into an appreciation and understanding of the great price that was paid by more than a million men and women who have died in the armed forces in battle during wartime – to first obtain and then preserve the freedoms we all enjoy and take for granted on a daily basis. And so, both the Fourth of July and Memorial Day give us a chance to say “thank you” to those people and think of the tremendous sacrifice that they made and their families made. These are people who all have personal stories that never got finished ... and the tragedy is most of those stories will never be told.

If you were to create an ideal day, just a day that you could spend the way you want to spend it, what would that day be like?
That’s pretty easy. I would spend it with my wife and my kids. … We just had one of those (days). We all went out on the ocean in Garibaldi Bay on the Oregon Coast, and we went crabbing. We came home that evening and cooked up crab, had a big crab feast, and told stories and laughed about the day’s activities and went to bed really tired.

– Billie Jean Plaster

Winter 2004

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