John Drake

John Drake
  • BS Mechanical Engineering 1964
  • MS Business Administration 1969
Hold on Tight to Your Dreams

John Drake did that for the duration of his career - what he calls a "forty-four-year run." The ensuing success has put him and his wife, Cathi, in the position of being philanthropists.

Through their estate, they have provided for the John and Cathi Drake Endowed Professorship in Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Tech. Drake says they are not waiting for it to take effect when they die - "which I'm hoping is a long time off." Rather, they are using retirement income to provide current funding for their professorship.

For him, helping out amounts to paying back. He attributes his success in large part to "the training and rigor of a Michigan Tech education with its insistence on understanding. That was the philosophy of the school, and it was pounded into us. Nobody was better prepared to understand and solve problems than we were."

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1964, he worked for four years in industry; returned to Tech to earn a master's degree in business administration in 1969; went back into industry; and then set up his own business, Drake Manufacturing Services, in Warren, Ohio, in 1972.

He met Cathi during college while working at a summer job on the East Coast. They married a week after he graduated. They have two grown daughters with families.

Drake's dream in college was simply a good-paying job with a big corporation. He landed just such employment with GM in Ohio but became restless. "I wanted to work somewhere beyond the same four walls for the rest of my life. I was willing to take risks. I had the self-confidence that was needed to survive the ups and downs of a small business.

He created Drake Manufacturing Services with big dreams but little resources. Starting as a one-man operation in his basement, he grew the business to fifty employees and annual sales of $10 million. The company makes precision industrial machinery for worldwide markets.

A principled man, Drake cultivated a good reputation. "I resolved to be honorable in my dealings," he says. The recipients of his benefaction included employees, customers, suppliers, and sales representatives.

The hardest thing he ever had to do was lay off employees during a severe economic downturn in 2001. "It hurt them and it hurt me," he says. "They were good people."

His wife helped him weather such challenging times. As office manager, she handled the "soft side" of the business, working with employees and the like. "Quite a gal," he says. "She was a big help in hard times and in a quandary."

The Drakes retired in March of 2007 after selling their company to longtime employees. He is proud of the company they built but considers his most significant accomplishment being a good husband and father.

Drake's own father was in the construction industry locally and helped build Wadsworth Hall and the Memorial Union.

Down through the years, then, bricks and mortar have given way to loyalty and stewardship.

Excerpted from Foresight, Spring 2008