Volume 34, Number 10,  October 1999


Superstar Vanderstar


Oh admit it, that’s what you said to yourself when you first heard that Cornelius Christian (C.C.) Vanderstar was one of this year’s inductees into the Glass and Metal Hall of Fame™. The 84-year old president of U.S. Aluminum Corporation in Waxahachie, TX, and its parent, International Aluminum Corporation in Los Angeles keeps a relatively low profile in the glass and metal industry. But his story of success and his shadow of influence are miles long. For his efforts, Vanderstar is scheduled to be inducted into the Glass and Metal Hall of Fame on October 22 in Cleveland, OH.
A native of Holland, Vanderstar’s many adventures include leaving home on a ship in his teens, making a dangerous and nearly impossible escape from the Japanese in his twenties, writing a best-selling novel in his thirties and sailing and fishing with luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway. And how such an adventurous seafarer came to found and run one of the country’s most successful companies is a spell-binding tale worthy of honor.
In fact, Van (the nickname he prefers) has told his story twice, once in the bestseller Escape from Java, a popular Book-of-the-Month Club selection published in 1943 and again in Staying the Course, published in 1987.
The son of parents with only an elementary school education, Vanderstar’s father was a metal worker highly skilled at bending and shaping the heavy metal plates used at the bottom of ships. When offered a job doing so on Java in the Dutch East Indies, he moved his wife and four children there when Vanderstar was six. Bored with Java and totally enchanted with the sea and the yachts that sailed it, he lied about his age and secured a crew job on the “Quebec Ptarmigan.” He left Java at 17 without telling his parents and traveled with the Ptarmigan to places such as Bali, Lombok, Bima, Makassar, Borneo and Manila.
By the following year, he was captain of the ship and had attempted a harrowing trip from Hawaii to San Francisco that nearly lost ship and crew. By age 20 he was back in Java working and enjoying friends and family. But when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, everything changed.
“I wasn’t going to wait for any outside help to be delivered from Japanese rule,” said Vanderstar in his autobiography. “ ... I was young, just 27 years old and had no family. There was nothing of a personal nature to keep me there ... Sailing, navigation and the sea were familiar to me ... and I knew that my one chance of escape was by boat.”                                            

wpe1.jpg (9190 bytes)
Vanderstar (right) immigrated with his future wife Marguerite (left) in 1952.

Vanderstar set out to find and equip a boat to sail out of Japanese-controlled waters. Hoarding food and keeping his activities hidden from sentries for several months, he found an old sailboat and enlisted two daring young Malayan natives to repair it. He and his companions sailed 2,500 miles for more than 31 days on the 25-foot boat before reaching friendly land. Vanderstar later learned that they were the only ones to escape from the island.
The three received a hero’s welcome from the British Occupational Forces when they arrived at Rodriguez Island. A British cruiser eventually took Vanderstar from there to Kenya. This was to be the first leg of a journey that would end in the United States, where he immigrated with his future wife Marguerite in 1952.
He had the distinction of serving both as an Army Lieutenant and Navy Lieutenant in the Dutch Armed Forces. After completing his service, Vanderstar was offered a job at Alcan and moved to Montreal for training. “I was very fortunate,” said Vanderstar, “... I tried to learn as much as I could while traveling to various factories where aluminum was produced and semi-fabricated into useable forms. I made a number of friends in Alcan ...” Vanderstar was sent to open an office in Jakarta and then served as branch manager for the company in Karashi, Pakistan.

wpe3.jpg (10142 bytes)
Vanderstar began producing aluminum windows under the Louver King Company in 1960.

But the United States beckoned and he moved to Boston as a salesman for Kaiser Aluminum in 1953. After a year, he was transferred to Miami, FL. “One of the main items we were selling in Florida was aluminum sheet. This came out of Kaiser’s sheet mill in Washington and shipment used to take up to four weeks to get to Miami by rail. Our competition consisted of Alcoa with a plant in Tennessee and Reynolds with a plant in Alabama. They could offer delivery in a week.”
In September 1955 Vanderstar relocated to Los Angeles, where he worked as a branch sales manager for a window maker. Using $9,000 he saved during the next two years, he purchased two punch presses and rented a garage. With the help of only one employee, Vanderstar began producing aluminum windows under the Louver King Company in 1960. The business was very successful and by 1963 had grown and been renamed International Window Corporation.
In 1964, Vanderstar purchased United States Aluminum Corporation, a small storefront company located in Los Angeles. Today U.S. Aluminum Corporation is one of the largest suppliers of aluminum products in the U.S. with manufacturing plants in Los Angeles, Chicago, Waxahachie, TX, Rock Hill, SC, and Langley, British Columbia. The company employs approximately 2,200 people and had annual sales of $245 million in fiscal year 1999. The company is divided into four distinct groups: United States Aluminum, International Window, International Extrusion and International Glass.
A lifelong love affair with the sea continues, as does his commitment to its education there. In 1979, he donated his beloved 100-foot motorsailor Astral to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, which uses the boat as a flagship.
Vanderstar credits much of his success to his adopted homeland. “It’s possible for anybody in this country to make a million if they have the capabilities. It is not that easy in other countries.”
His philosophy can best be summed up by the dedication in one of his books, Staying the Course. “This book is dedicated to any young man or woman who seeks success. But remember, success means many things to many people and it very often has nothing to do with money. I once had a compelling need to escape from a contemptible situation. Money would not have helped me reach my goal, but one word, persistence, made the difference. So if you really want something with all your heart, be stubborn, refuse to give up, and chances are good that success will be yours. But you must be willing to work for it. No one can hand it to you.”   


Copyright 1999 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.