From IWU Magazine, Summer 2017 edition
For Dave Petrick '67, the spirit of entrepreneurship is contagious
Sidebar Story by KIM HILL
D ave Petrick ’67 describes himself as a “product guy,” and that’s understandable. His company, Bretford Manufacturing, produces thousands of technology furniture products for schools and businesses.
“We thrive on new products and bringing them to market on a continual basis,” Petrick says. Founded by Petrick’s father and uncle in 1948, Bretford was the first company to introduce the mobile computer cart and the first to build a comprehensive line of audio-visual accessories.
Behind the company’s decades-long success, Petrick says, is an understanding that any new product or service has to provide a key benefit — an obvious reason why a customer should choose Bretford products over the competition.
A longtime University supporter and former trustee, Petrick was also interested in helping IWU find ways to enhance its own competitive edge. “Our students are personable, they write well, they speak well, they’re very smart, and they love the whole aspect of the Wesleyan experience,” says Petrick, now Bretford’s chairman. And when he observed that some of Bretford’s community college customers offered coursework aligned with the Toyota “lean manufacturing” approach to cutting waste, Petrick wondered if his company could support a program at IWU centered on innovative thinking in product design.
Petrick talked with University administrators, who then invited faculty to brainstorm ideas for a curriculum centered around the concepts of design. Longtime donors to Illinois Wesleyan, Petrick and his wife, Ellen (Reid) Petrick ’68, made a significant financial gift to Illinois Wesleyan in support of what would eventually become the DTE program.
“The faculty took hold of the idea, and together built this program,” says Petrick. “What I love is that it crosses all the disciplines — art, science, business — it’s a whole university program. The [DTE] program as it has evolved is pretty spectacular.”
And just as the DTE curriculum offers courses in a variety of disciplines, Petrick believes its benefits will positively impact students whose majors span the academic spectrum. He thinks everyone has a bit of the entrepreneurial spirit that can be encouraged, from the music major who conceptualizes a superior music stand to the surgeon who dreams up a new tool or medical device to save lives.
"The DTE program says to students and their parents, ‘you can do this and we can show you how.’ It’s taking an idea from the beginning to the end, and students can take that knowledge, that tool, to be successful anywhere they go."