On July 6, 1968, two cousins walked through the doors of Draper for their first official day of work at the family business.
Those two fresh-out-of-college young men were John Pidgeon and Mike Broome. And nobody could know what a major impact they would have on the future of Draper.
Today John is Draper’s president and Mike is vice president of manufacturing.
“I believe that John and Mike have had more impact on Draper’s success than anyone else,” said Chris Broome, Draper’s architectural market manager and Mike’s son. “Their vision and leadership have helped the company grow at an aggressive pace. When they started, Draper was a small company. We now have over 700 employees.”
Even though John and Mike are the great-grandsons of company founder Luther O. Draper, and Luther Pidgeon—John’s father and Mike’s uncle—was the company president at the time, the pairing might not have happened.
“Joining Draper was always a strong probability,” said John. “A conversation with my father at the end of my junior year of college sealed the deal.”
“I actually made the decision late, midway through the second year of my MBA program,” said Mike. “I had interviewed with Borg Warner in Chicago and Procter & Gamble in Newark. However, I really wanted the opportunity to be a generalist in a small company. Most small companies aren’t interested in a freshly-minted MBA, but Luther was willing to gamble on me. In addition, I was very pleased by the prospect of working with my cousin and uncle.”
Although Draper had already been in business for 66 years, it was still a very small concern at that point. The company had only been in the projection screen business for 11 years, and hadn’t yet added gymnasium equipment or AV lifts to the product offering. Schools were still the main customer.
“We were a small company, fewer than 40 employees,” said John. “We were hands-on involved in every single detail.”
“It was indeed small,” agreed Mike. “All orders were checked twice. First Luther, or his surrogate, would go over the typed orders with the order clerk. She would look at her copy, while Luther would read the dealer’s original and tell the clerk sitting across from him what he thought the typed order should say. Later all orders were price checked and the invoice corrected or approved before it was sent. During the summer months those stacks of invoices waiting to be checked were daunting. Since we made five copies—the original, plus four carbon copies—correcting anything was a bear for the clerk.”
A few things have changed since then. Where in 1968 just about everything was done by hand, computerization, electronic communication, and automation have made a huge difference in efficiency, capacity, and delivery times. Through the dozens of product introductions, awards for product innovation, and major growth, a few things stand out as particularly memorable.
“Our centennial celebration in 2002 was a good moment, as was day one of the InfoComm convention in 1978 when we introduced the Diplomat tripod screen,” said John. “That was the point in time when we became a full-fledged competitor in the projection screen business.”
Mike points to becoming an owner as his proudest moment at Draper.
Looking back over 50 years, John said there are several things he has valued most about working at Draper.
“First and foremost, the opportunity to work with my father Luther for 35 years, and my cousin Mike for 50 years,” he said. “Also, the many good people I have worked with, both here in the company and in the marketplace. And, the fact that we make good quality products that serve useful purposes.”
Both John and Mike place being a responsible employer, a good supplier, and a tough competitor at the top of the list of their main goals of the past 50 years. And they’ve met those goals and then some.
“They have made a good team,” said Chris. “John looked after sales and marketing, and Mike manufacturing and engineering. Both have pushed Draper to get involved with new products and new markets, and to continue to look for ways to grow the business.”
And what about the future? Although John and Mike aren’t showing any signs of slowing down, there will come the day when they pass the mantle of leadership. John says his hopes for the future are for the company to continue to grow and prosper for another 116 years. Mike also hopes for continuity.
“In general, keep up the good work,” he said. “Do the best we can for our customers, for our employees, and for the community.”
A big role in that future will feature Mike’s son Chris, the fifth generation of the family in company management.
“John and Mike have taught me that commitment to Draper’s employees and the community are both very important. I think that makes Draper unique,” said Chris. “The company has been around for 116 years and has never had a layoff. Not many companies can say that. Draper has also done a lot for the town of Spiceland, and that is very important too. It is important that we contribute to the community where the company is based.”
Draper started as a regional window shade supplier. During John’s and Mike’s time, Draper has added sales offices in Placentia, California and four wholly-owned subsidiaries: Draper Group Ltd., a sales and warehouse facility in Corby, Northamptonshire, United Kingdom, and three manufacturing companies in Sweden: Draper Europe AB, a leading European projection screen manufacturer; SMS Smart Media Solutions AB, a leading European provider of video projector and flat screen mounts; and Evoko, a provider of conferencing collaboration tools. A truly international company, Draper products are shipped to dealers throughout the United States and more than 100 foreign countries.
Through it all, John’s view of Draper has remained steady.
“Although we have grown quite a bit over the years,” said John with typical understatement, “I still think of us as a small company.”