Fall 2005

David Oreck
Founder and Chairman of the Board
Oreck Corporation

Click to view photos from David Oreck's visit to the New York City campus as Entrepreneur in Residence.
Click to read about David Oreck's visit to the Westchester campus as Entrepreneur in Residence in April 2003.

David Oreck is the 79-year-old founder and chairman of Oreck Corporation, the manufacturer of high quality, premium vacuum cleaners. For five decades, he has been the company's chief spokesman, appearing in newspaper, magazine, television and radio advertisements across the country. He was recently named one of the country's most recognized personalities.

Mr. Oreck traces his devotion to his company's products to his 50 years as an airplane pilot. Mr. Oreck avers, "Like airplanes, great vacuums must be light, powerful, dependable, brilliantly designed and exceptionally engineered." He maintains a fleet of vintage airplanes, including a one-of-a-kind 1944 Beech Staggerwing.

Born in Duluth, Minnesota, David Oreck headed for the excitement of New York City after flying combat missions for the Army Air Force in World War II in a B-29. At 21, he landed a job selling RCA radios, televisions and phonographs. He rose through the ranks at RCA and accompanied RCA founder David Sarnoff to Washington, DC, for Congressional hearings on setting technical standards for a newfangled invention: color television. When RCA needed a new distributor in New Orleans, a poor-performing market, Mr. Oreck jumped at the opportunity. In two years time, he turned it around and went from last to first place.

In 1963, David Oreck established Oreck Corporation, first selling upright vacuum cleaners to the hotel industry. At the time, hotel maids and janitors were burdened with heavy and bulky machines that were cumbersome and difficult to maneuver. Workers were delighted with Oreck's light but powerful upright, and eventually, they began purchasing the machines for home use. From there, word spread quickly to the public about a product that would make vacuuming easier and more effective. Today, his most popular product, the upright Oreck XL, weighs a mere eight pounds.

Mr. Oreck is proud of his company's other innovations, such as his products' hypoallergenic qualities (much sooner than "indoor air quality" concerns became a national concern) and the ability for a vacuum cleaner to switch from cleaning bare floors to rugs without having to switch attachments.

Recently, a satisfied customer wrote to David Oreck and said, "How do I get my teenager to clean his room with the vacuum?" Mr. Oreck designed an upright vacuum cleaner with an FM radio and headphones in the handle.

Today, Oreck Corporation employs 1,500 people, who work at its New Orleans headquarters and its state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Long Beach, Mississippi.

David Oreck—Entrepreneur Par Excellence

[David Oreck]
David Oreck at his undergraduate lecture

"A kiss is just a kiss,/ A sigh is just a sigh,/ The fundamental things apply,/ As time goes by," sang a character from the 1943 movie classic, Casablanca, the abstract of which David Oreck used to open his lecture to Lubin undergraduate students on the Pleasantville campus on Tuesday, April 22, 2003.

The founder and chairman of the Board of Oreck Corporation, a major manufacturer of premium cleaning equipment and the famed vacuum cleaner, 79-year-old Oreck visited Pace's Westchester campuses as an Entrepreneur in Residence and shared with the fascinated audience of business students and faculty his ideas on how to build a premium brand. "To build a brand...pay attention to the fundamentals... you have to offer a customer a reason to buy," explained Oreck.

Oreck spoke with invited faculty and students at a luncheon and then met with undergraduate classes in the afternoon. In the evening, he spoke to graduate classes on the White Plains campus.

The Age of Marketers
"Premium brands, the brands we respect, are built by good marketers," said Oreck, as he held up his left hand with a multifunction Nike watch on it, "price—$49." All of a sudden the speaker showed his right hand with a $5,000 Rolex on it and said: "It doesn't tell the time as good ... it doesn't keep the date correctly, it has no back lighting, [however] they sell a lot of these things. I call it good marketing." Oreck underlined the value and complexity of building a premium brand today when product differences are slight: "Part of this good marketing is the exclusivity of the Rolex brand. You won't find a Rolex at Wal-Mart. Remember, you are judged by the company you keep."

The Marketing Behind Oreck Vacuums
"One of the fundamentals in building a brand is learning how to listen," commented Oreck, who, when he introduced his 8-pound vacuum, said he was told by the experts to make it heavier, not because it was too light to be efficient, but because they said, "customers felt heaviness equates with cleanness." The ingenious entrepreneur decided to sell his vacuum to places with reputations for being clean such as luxury hotels, and he succeeded.

"If your best idea for marketing is running sales and cutting prices you will lose premium brand status," commented Oreck on such a poor substitute for good marketing as the every day sale. "To build a brand you have to know how to sell ... I have a rule in my place that when anyone comes with an idea, I want three positive answers [about it]," he said in speaking about the importance of recognizing good selling ideas.

Oreck told the students he felt that word of mouth is the most powerful way to get a good or bad name in marketing products. His recommendation on advertising was: "Be clear! People tend to make so many things complicated ... that when they are confronted with something simple they remember it."

Essential Elements for a Good Company
"I believe there are two essential elements for a successful company: one is to have a marketing visionary, and the other is to have a business manager. If an organization believes these two roles are incompatible, this organization will soon find itself out of business," said the devoted leader of 1,500 employees.

"The last thing I want to tell you about building a brand is about having an incredible work ethic." With these words Oreck showed the audience a documentary film about an astonishing salesman, Bill Porter. Ignoring his cerebral palsy, Porter walked door to door for many years selling products. "When you are to be successful, you want to be like Bill Porter. Don't give up, don't take no for an answer. There are no shortcuts to tomorrow. Have the courage of your convictions, focus, find a niche, work hard, do the best you can," concluded Oreck, the entrepreneur par excellence.