2013 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Live the American dream and be proud of how you did it."
Patrick Lee’s father was in the Navy when he met his soon-to- be-wife at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. After they married, Patrick’s father brought his French bride home to America. Shortly after Patrick’s birth in Virginia in 1938, his father was shipped overseas. Patrick’s mother decided to take her newborn son to Paris to meet her side of the family, but shortly after their arrival, World War II was launched. France was embroiled in the war from the beginning and Patrick and his mother were unable to leave. They lived with his grandparents in Paris for nearly seven years. “This was a very difficult time for me and my mother and her family,” says Patrick. “War is not a Hollywood movie. It was very challenging for my mother to try and raise her son in the middle of a war, but she had survivor instincts. She was hard working, disciplined, and loyal.”
Patrick’s mother was recruited for the French resistance since she and her sister were identical twins. When Patrick was six, the Germans learned that he was an American citizen. “My mother knew she had to get me out of Paris,” says Patrick. “My mother’s twin sister had a daughter just six months younger than I. It was decided that the two of us were to be sent to a small village outside Orleans for safe-keeping.”
It was a frightening and angerous time for Patrick and his cousin. Allied forces were bombing the area, and German soldiers went through towns, killing villagers at will. In addition to the perilous environment, there was an overall lack of food and medicine.
n the year that they fled to Orleans, Patrick’s father was killed in the Guadalcanal naval battle. “The loss of my father, a man I never really knew, was devastating for me and my mother,” says Patrick. “When the war ended in 1945, my mother and I returned to America and lived with my father’s cousins in Nebraska City. We could’ve stayed with my grandparents. My grandfather was a successful lawyer in Paris with investments in Madagascar. The whole family immigrated to his land holdings after the war, but my mother wanted to raise me as an American. We crossed the Atlantic in December and arrived in New York City on Christmas Eve. I can still remember the toy airplane my mother bought me to celebrate the holiday.”
The war years in France were so harrowing for Patrick and his mother they never talked about it once they returned to America. Patrick grew up suppressing his memories as much as he could. To this day, it is difficult for him to recall his early childhood.
Shortly after arriving in New York, Patrick and his mother boarded a crowded train filled with returning GIs. They were met in Omaha by Patrick’s father’s relatives. Patrick’s mother wanted him to become an American as quickly as possible and refused to speak French to him at home. “The kids in school didn’t know what to do with me at first,” he says. “It wasn’t an easy start for me, but I picked up English pretty fast and concentrated on my studies.”
Patrick settled in and made friends. He played basketball, baseball, and hockey. He also enjoyed hunting and fishing. He enjoyed thinking of things he could manufacture and at nine years old tried to make a card shuffler out of a cigar box and tin cans. “It didn’t work well,” he says.
School and getting a good education were highly important to Patrick’s mother. She insisted on sending him to the best Catholic schools. Patrick has never forgotten one nun who gave tremendous amounts of math homework each night. Even Patrick’s mother thought it was excessive. But today Patrick is appreciative of his teacher’s challenge because it taught him at an early age to be disciplined—a trait he feels benefited him.
“Jesuit schools were best for me,” says Patrick. “In addition to giving me a well-rounded education, they teach a code of conduct that makes you responsible for your actions. They also teach you to look at both sides of issues and see things in a balanced way.”
In his last two years of high school, Patrick worked for three or four hours each day in a lab at Eli Lilly, where he helped make animal serum. “There was no doubt I would go to college,” he says. “My mother had a college education, and I was eligible for a war orphan scholarship, which helped tremendously.”
Patrick had thought seriously about studying law, but felt that it would be more practical to be an engineer. With a recession going on, he thought it would be best to get his education completed as quickly as possible and get to work.
Patrick attended St. Louis University (SLU) and majored in aeronautical engineering. He had a job while at SLU with a company that was reassessing real estate in St. Louis, but mostly he concentrated on getting his degree in three years. He went to school year-round with no summers off. He says, “Back then we were in a hurry to graduate, in a hurry to find a job, in a hurry to buy a car, to get married and have children, in a hurry to buy a house. In the fifties, we were just in a hurry.”
Patrick knew he didn’t want to work for a large corporation for any real length of time, but worked after graduating in 1960 as an engineer for McDonnell Aircraft in St. Louis. A few years later, he went to work for a small New York manufacturing firm.
In 1966, Patrick invested his $2,500 in savings and purchased a machine shop. In his spare time, he worked on developing new products and took out a number of patents. One was for industrial shock absorbers and a new hydraulic cylinder. “Inventions are just problem solving for me,” he says. “My best invention was that hydraulic cylinder. Cessna Hydraulics had monopoly, and it was a challenge to break it.”
In 1967, Patrick founded Enidine, Inc., which became the world’s premier manufacturer of industrial and aerospace shock absorption and vibration isolation products. In the 1960s, America was embracing automation; trying to make equipment and machines work faster and safer with less maintenance. It was a time of proliferation of new products in hydraulic, pneumatics, and eventual electrical mechanical components. It was an ideal time for Patrick’s products. Making the jump from being an inventor to running a business was a trial-and-error process for him, but he surrounded himself with good people and learned quickly how to successfully run a business.
Patrick always felt that manufacturing was going to increase in Europe and Asia. By 1968, he got a license to produce Enidine products in Europe for a United Kingdom company. By 1976, Enidine had independent distributors of its products in all of Europe and Japan. By the mid-1980s, Enidine had established its own manufacturing and distribution companies in Japan, Korea, and in eight European countries. In 1994, International Motion Controls (IMC) was formed, since the company had expanded into a variety of motion control products. By 2007, 65 percent of IMC’s revenue was international, with 2,000 employees worldwide.
“IMC’s success was due to its associates who worked diligently to make IMC a recognized international company,” says Patrick, who was particularly influenced by his outside independent directors, especially Warren Cutting. Patrick says,
“Warren taught me the complete joy of honesty of life. If you asked his opinion about somebody you found questionable, he would change the subject. He would never speak badly about another person. But most of all, he had a passion for philanthropy. He believed in giving back.”
On a more personal level, Patrick defines success as, “Having the ability to live your dream— whatever it is—surrounded by your family and friends who care for you. It’s also the ability to give back to the sources that helped shape your life.”
Patrick believes in treating others with respect and kindness. When offering advice to young people, he says, “Life is an adventure. Enjoy new opportunities and the new people you meet throughout your life. Decide what you are good at, but understand that your capabilities will change over your lifetime. Start-ups should be done early since maturity and risk-taking do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. Work hard, but know your strengths. Surround yourself with trusted associates.”