Tony Golobic jokes that he got his first job in America —cleaning oil-fired boilers —because no one else wanted to do it. “The boilers were red hot, the work was dangerous and dirty,” he says. “But I was making really good money, a lot more money than I ever imagined. I thought, what a great country, just think about what I can achieve here once I learn English and get some education.”
It was 1962. Golobic was 17 years old and had only two days prior stepped on U.S. soil. Joining his mother as a Slovenian immigrant, he was a high school drop-out, had little money, and spoke no English. Five months later, he volunteered for the draft and spent three years in the U.S. Army, six months of it in Vietnam. He credits the language immersion for his later success.
In this country you see opportunities for success that are so uncommon, especially compared to where you came from, that they inspire you.
“I think that is the best way to learn English, where you’re not exposed to your own language,” he says. “And, frankly, if you are to be successful in this country you have to learn English.”
Only a few years later, Golobic had earned a GED, then a bachelor’s degree — while working full-time at a bank — and an MBA from the University of Chicago. After serving in senior leadership positions at several large financial institutions, he decided, in 1992, at the age of 48, to start his own company.
GreatAmerica Financial Services, where he still serves as chairman and CEO, began with a staff of four that included him and his wife. It now employees 576 people and is the largest private independent commercial equipment finance company in the United States. Golobic — also an active philanthropist — personally delivers the biweekly paychecks to his employees and thanks them. The company is consistently ranked one of the best places to work in Iowa.
“In this country you see opportunities for success that are so uncommon, especially compared to where you came from, that they inspire you,” Golobic says. Many immigrants have the work ethic and desire to succeed. But immersion in English language and training opportunities are critical, he says: “It goes right down to education.”