A Business Legacy
A Father’s Success, A Son’s Tribute
In 1933 Charles Louis Arolla, a 23-year-old who had come to America from Italy at the age of three, decided to open his own drugstore at 40th Street and Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, California. Brimming with self-confidence, he was undeterred by the Great Depression (at almost its worst point then), competing with drugstores on two of the three other corners at that intersection, and the fact that he hadn’t yet received his state pharmacist’s license.
He’d taken the State Pharmacy exam, after all, and was sure he’d passed. So he was stunned to receive a letter saying he hadn’t. Arolla happened to know a local judge, who accompanied him to Sacramento, where they demanded a review of the test. The graders had indeed erred in grading his exam, and he got his license and was able to open the pharmacy, for which he had already ordered inventory.
Arolla’s Pharmacy was a success, much of it owing to the owner’s tireless effort. He worked from 7 a.m. to midnight seven days a week and checked the prices in his competitors’ windows regularly — the better to undercut them. Years of working at Delucchi’s Pharmacy, an Oakland institution, as a youngster had taught him how to deal with people and provide customer service. His formal education consisted of a high school diploma and a few pharmacy courses in San Francisco, but he liked to say he was a graduate of the “School of Hard Knocks”.
“ Entrepreneurs need to take time for their family and keep a close eye on family relationships.”
“In many ways he was a product of the Depression,” his son—also named Charlie—says. “He worked long hours and saved his money. He could afford a Cadillac, but always bought them used, after that first drop-off in depreciation.”
The pharmacy was only the beginning of Arolla’s business career. He went on to acquire other retail businesses, and following the end of World War II got into commercial development and property management. After more than three decades in that field, he could claim that every single venture of his had been a success, largely owing to the fact that he personally oversaw the management of his properties. Arolla actively managed his properties into his late 90s and renewed his pharmacy license every year until he died in June 2011, at the age of 101.
To honor the senior Arolla’s memory and his business acumen, Charlie’s son has created the Charles Louis Arolla Endowment supporting the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Leavey School of Business. The younger Arolla, Charles Robert, is an SCU alumnus (’68), who served with the police department of the city of Santa Clara for more than 30 years, then finished his career as SCU’s campus safety director, retiring in 2010.
“I wanted to memorialize my father’s success and ensure that his name would live on beyond my time,” Charlie says. “My father was an innovator and entrepreneur, who worked hard and achieved success, but he also was a caring individual, who was well respected, and someone people came to for advice.”
Charlie says as he was growing up, his father devoted most of his life to work, but that later on the two of them were able to establish a deep connection. Although he knows much of his father’s story, he regrets that there are gaps in it that he will never be able to fill now.
“Based on my experience with my father, I’d make two admonitions to people,” Charlie says.
“First, entrepreneurs need to make time for their family and should keep a close eye on family relationships where there’s a business involved. Second, if you have parents or grandparents who are still alive, sit down now and write down their story so you have that history.”
Charles Louis Arolla’s lifetime of hard work, persistence, and personal involvement in his businesses became a legacy for his family and a proud standard for entrepreneurs working in the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.