Counting Only the Sunny Days

What’s it like to put together a national manufacturing company from scratch — starting at the tender age of 82?

Ask that question of Doris Drucker, MS’63 (T), and the high-flying inventor, author and entrepreneur — who has been married to management guru Peter Drucker for 67 years — will admit that many of her friends were startled by her decision to launch an industrial enterprise 20 years after most people settle into retirement.

“A lot of people were surprised when I began building my company, and my children thought I’d gone off my rocker,” the indefatigable Drucker — now 93 — said. “But that didn’t slow me down at all! Let’s face it: Start-ups are usually considered a young person’s game and not an activity for senior citizens.

“But why should starting a business at age 80 be different from starting one at any other age? All you really need is good health, some determination and huge amounts of energy. Fortunately, I seemed to have all three — and I found the challenge of inventing a product and then marketing it quite exhilarating.”

“A lot of people were surprised when I began building my company, and my children thought I’d gone off my rocker.”

Drucker says the idea for her manufacturing company emerged spontaneously more than a decade ago as she stood in the back of a crowded auditorium and monitored one of her husband’s lectures. “For many years,” she noted in a later article, “my role as the wife of a professional speaker was to sit in the last row and shout ‘Louder!’ whenever my husband’s voice dropped.

“I decided there had to be a better ‘feedback’ device — and if there wasn’t, I’d go ahead and invent one!”

The result was an electronic instrument that translates voice volume to warning lights on a console. Assembled with the help of a retired engineer, Drucker’s patented Visivox® system today occupies a unique marketing niche and is used in college lecture halls, in auditoriums and even in churches where the preacher wants to be certain the faithful hear every word.

Interestingly enough, Drucker also notes that her famous husband — an immensely popular business writer who “all but created management science” — provided little help in the enterprise. Although Peter Drucker had sold millions of books on business management, he quickly admitted to his entrepreneurial spouse that he could not assist her with Visivox: “Sorry, but I wouldn’t know the first thing about a small enterprise like yours,” he reportedly said.

But the determined Drucker, who had earned both a law degree and a PhD in economics at European universities before moving to the United States just prior to the outbreak of World War II, was hardly discouraged by her husband’s inability to help. Armed with engineering diagrams and extensive research data, she spent a couple of years nailing down all of the parts required for the launch of her brand-new RSQ Associates in 1996. As CEO (at 84), she then kicked off a national marketing initiative aimed at putting the product on the shelf everywhere.

Although Drucker’s entrepreneurial gamble took place late in life, her decision to build the start-up actually made good business sense, since she’d already spent several decades working as a freelance scientific researcher for U.S. companies seeking to create new products. For the veteran lawyer-economist-scientist, the struggle to create and sell new technology was actually familiar turf.

Describing the launch, Drucker notes,“I got to work with a lot of people whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise. And when I talk electronics to a supplier — when I talk about the negative tip orientation of a charger cable, let’s say — I’m just another professional customer and not just an old lady in our ‘ageist’ society.”

Drucker also says she was greatly amused by the reaction of her management-savvy husband, as her fledgling company took off: “He watched it happen with great astonishment. Peter does my taxes — and I bless him for that — but he has no idea about building start-ups!”

“Stay as active as you can and keep learning. Find something that engages you, and avoid sinking into the daily routine!”

But starting a brand-new company is only one of the ways in which the independent-minded Drucker has been surprising her friends lately. Last year she published a memoir (Invent Radium or I’ll Pull Your Hair, University of Chicago Press) that documents in hilarious fashion her early life in Germany, where she grew up before marrying Peter and settling in New York City during the late 1930s.

Described as “wryly comic” and as a work of “literary distinction” by The Atlantic Monthly, Drucker’s memoir recounts her tangled and often humorous relationship with her iron-willed, Prussian mother — a struggle that on one occasion required poor Doris to hide her future husband in a coal cellar all night, in order to keep her disapproving mom from learning that she’d begun dating the young Austrian!

As it turned out, the sternly controlling Clara Schmitz had other plans for her rebellious daughter — and insisted that she marry a wealthy Rothschild in order to gain the economic independence required to become a famous scientist. “Be another Marie Curie,” ordered Clara, “and invent radium!” When Doris pointed out that radium had already been invented, her mother refused to bend: “You’re going to invent radium or I’ll pull your hair!”


While painting a vivid picture of life in Germany between the two World Wars, Invent Radium also describes Drucker’s eventual migration to America … where she would raise four children with Peter and eventually wind up as a graduate student in physics at Fairleigh Dickinson’s campus in Teaneck, N.J.

“I wrote my thesis on the ‘Doppler Effect’ and its impact on microwaves,” she says, “and I’m very grateful for everything I learned in the process. I went on to be a patent agent and a scientific researcher later — and I probably couldn’t have done it without that [FDU] master’s degree!”

For many years a resident of Claremont, Calif. (where Peter taught management at Claremont College), Drucker continues to write almost daily. She also plays a mean game of tennis and still manages the daily operations of her company.

So what’s her advice — at 93 — to those who want to thrive during their twilight years? “Stay as active as you can and keep learning. Find something that engages you, and avoid sinking into the daily routine!” There’s an old German saying I like very much,” she says with a chuckle.“No matter what difficulties may arise, ‘Count only the sunny days!’”


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