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Dual-degree grad has head start on success ; Only 19: He's already a successful businessman, but he plans to have an MBA degree by age 21

May 29, 2004, Saturday

The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)

Christon Horstman is picking up two bachelor's degrees -- one in accounting, the other in finance -- today during Westminster College's 129th commencement.

That comes as no surprise to folks who know the 19-year-old business owner, competitive skier and former child actor. He graduated from Park City High School four days after turning 16.

Horstman -- home-schooled for two years during his elementary years, then skipping the eighth and 11th grades -- rejects any notion that he's "smart." He sees himself as an average guy who set goals and then works hard to achieve them.

"There are some extraordinary, smart people who don't have to try. . . . I try very hard," said Horstman. He is graduating summa cum laude, a recognition for college graduates with excellent academic standing.

He already is enrolled in Westminster's master of business administration program, having declined offers from Wharton Business School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The new goal: to have his MBA before he's 21. He turns 20 on Monday.

The Horstman family moved to Utah six years ago so that Christon could train as a ski racer. He made the junior Olympic team three years in a row, said his mother, Susan Horstman.

At 17, Horstman enrolled in Westminster's aviation program while working for a flight school in Heber City. His mother said he had decided he wanted to be a commercial pilot like his parents.

Susan Horstman was the first female pilot for Pan Am Airlines, and was based in Berlin for a number of years. His father, Chriss Horstman, was a pilot for Continental. Both now are retired; they also have since divorced.

But Horstman soon switched his major from aviation to business because he wanted a "backup career." He also began paying attention to some of the poor business decisions being made where he worked.

"I saw an opportunity and decided to start my own flight school and compete against them," Horstman said. He also ended up competing against Westminster.

Last September, with a little more than $ 1,000 in seed money and airplanes leased by the hour, he started Cornerstone Aviation at Salt Lake City International Airport. He now has nine employees, including his mother.

"That's what has been so good about having a business and studying how a business works. I could apply what I was learning in the classroom," said Horstman.

Roger Ignatius, director and associate professor of finance at Westminster, describes Horstman as "intelligent and dedicated."

"He was one of my best students," said Ignatius. "He's very mature for his age."

Westminster associate professor of accounting Claire Richards also found Horstman to be "self-directed and having lots of potential."

"He has a very clear vision for someone so young," said Richards.

Because of Horstman's early work as a child actor in New York City and his parents traveling for work, he often would be absent from his elementary classes. Tired of wrestling with the school system, his mother home-schooled him for the sixth and seventh grade; he also traveled with them.

"You get a better education about most things when you're able to see it in real life," said Susan Horstman, adding that she and his father also encouraged their son to explore as much as possible. "He learned to fine-tune his goals and be the best at whatever he did."