- Anthony von Mandl
Anthony von Mandl
2023 Horatio Alger Award Winner — Founder & CEO, Mark Anthony Group
“When you have a dream, protect it with your life. Never let anyone take it away from you.”
In 1950, Anthony von Mandl was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. The son of European immigrants, Anthony feels very fortunate to have been born in Canada. In fact, when he considers his parents’ perilous and harrowing journey, it’s miraculous that he and his sister are here at all.
The journey began with his Austrian Father and Czech Mother fleeing from the Nazis in 1938, followed by their desperate efforts to relocate to Canada for a year and a half. Finally, they made their transatlantic crossing on the last passenger vessel to depart from Saint Nazaire for Ellis Island in May of 1940. “The circumstances and the challenges they overcame were immense,” Anthony says. “It must have been quite frightening. There was no convoy; they were on their own. Theirs was the last ocean liner to depart France for America and it was sunk on the return voyage.”
Traveling across America by train, Anthony’s mother would frequently recall the moment when they finally reached the border and a Canadian immigration official greeted them and said, “Welcome to Canada.” Overwhelmed with gratitude and joy, she couldn’t hold back her tears, turned towards his Father and said, “At last we are safe….”
“Their story has made me an incredibly proud Canadian,” Anthony says. “One who cares deeply and has immense gratitude for our country.”
To provide a broader education for Anthony and his sister, his parents made significant sacrifices to move the family back to Europe when Anthony was nine years old. Yet, as Anthony approached his teenage years, it became increasingly clear that Canada was home. The family moved back to Vancouver to complete high school. Anthony is incredibly grateful to his parents, not only for the enormity of their sacrifice, but also for his cultured childhood. His parents fostered in him a love of art, music, cuisine, and learning. “Without the education, the understanding of other people and other languages, I could have never started, let alone built the business we have today at The Mark Anthony Group.”
Anthony reflects on his early experiences, recalling his first job as a 7-year-old collecting bottles as an intriguing hint of what was to come. However, it was his position as a busboy at a hotel in Vancouver that marked his initial venture into the world of work. This opportunity taught him valuable lessons about the significance of precision, from the meticulous setup of everything to the proper conduct expected of him.
At the age of 16, Anthony worked the graveyard shift at a sawmill in Vancouver on Friday nights after school. The following summer, he worked as a labourer on the construction of a dam in Northern British Columbia. Through these formative experiences, he not only learned to deeply respect and value those that do challenging physical labour but the importance each and every role plays in our society.
Anthony decided to pursue a Degree in Economics at the University of British Columbia. He admits, however, he spent more time immersing himself in the arts than he did studying economics including hosting a popular jazz show on the student radio station.
After his third year of university, Anthony traveled back to Germany for a summer apprenticeship at a leading newsprint manufacturing company where he was introduced to diverse experiences from working on the production floor to marketing and sales. After graduating university at the age of 22, without any money or business experience, he founded the first business in Canada to call itself a ‘Wine Merchant’ out of a small 10×10 sq. ft. office out of the back of a Vancouver Civic Theatre – the rent was $29.92 a month.
As is the case for many entrepreneurs, the challenges came hard and fast. Yet, Anthony viewed each as an opportunity to reimagine and reinvent. The most valuable lesson he learned was from his Father: “When you hit a roadblock; when you think there’s no way forward, there’s always a creative solution to what appears to be a dead end.”
Initially, he could not afford to pay himself, Anthony recalls, “For the first six years of my business, it was incredibly difficult, and I missed quite a few meals.” In those early days, he was also blacklisted as a supplier and his “home” British Columbia liquor control board and others were not interested in carrying his wines. Anthony pivoted, discovering he could sell directly to Canadian airlines. This allowed him to survive and yielded just enough revenue to pay bills. Despite this initial success, Anthony’s sights were set on a much larger dream – the potential of Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley.
What I’ve Learned
Anthony has also learned that that each one of us possesses untapped potential that is far greater than we may initially believe. “The only thing holding us back is ourselves,” he says.
“Incredibly hard work, humility, overcoming obstacles, making mistakes and learning from them, and quickly adapting, yet really having an inspiring purpose, that dream and a vision, is fundamental and can lead to an incredibly fulfilling life.”
As for giving back? Anthony firmly believes in participating in charitable causes where he knows he can have a tangible effect and he feels he can truly make an impact. As Chairman of The von Mandl Family Foundation, he has generously supported a variety of community and charitable causes over the years. His philanthropy reflects a wide range of beneficiaries in the arts, education and cancer health research in Canada, the United States and globally.
“The Horatio Alger Association is deeply meaningful to me because my parents lost everything. They escaped to Canada. They started with nothing and put everything into our education, including taking my sister and I back to Europe to give us that experience. Not everyone has that opportunity,” Anthony says.
Anthony shares some words of advice for the scholarship recipients: “When you have a dream, protect it with your life. Never let anyone take it away from you, and, once you get there,” he concludes, “never forget where you came from. Humility and an understanding that we are all the same is critical.”