‘You’re going to invent radium, or I’ll pull your hair,” Clara Schmitz loudly pronounced to her daughter Doris. Young Doris tried to explain the difficulty of this task — basically, Madame Curie had already made that discovery. But her mother was having none of it. She had high ambitions for her daughter. And while Doris was unable to discover radium, she racked up impressive achievements, including founding a national company based on her own invention, and shepherded it to success — beginning at age 80.
Now, at 93, Doris Drucker, widow of world renowned management consultant and economist Peter Drucker, is set to fly in from her California home to her alma mater, Fairleigh Dickinson University. She speaks at its Rothman Institute on “Entrepreneurship at Any Age” on Friday, March 31, at 6 p.m. Free, but reservations requested. Call 973-443-8842.
To call her an author, inventor, scientist, and entrepreneur scarcely covers it. Even as a young woman growing up in Germany, Drucker showed remarkable energy and intellectual curiosity. “I had a real passion for the sciences. I desperately wanted to study physics, but that was a time when professors were advising would-be physicists `Why not go and find a new decimal point for pi?’ So, I ended up studying law instead,” she says.
Failing to marry a Rothschild (her mother’s goal for her), Doris married just as advantageously, when she wed Peter Drucker, who would become known as the father of modern business management theory. Emigrating to the United States in l937, Peter became a college professor and freelance writer, while Doris pursued her passion for physics, earning a master’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Throughout her career, she consulted with many startup firms, helping them bring new inventions to market. Her recently published autobiographical book, “Invent Radium: Or I’ll Pull Your Hair,” is a humorous account of her youth in Germany. It relates such anecdotes as the night young Peter Drucker spent hiding in the Schmitz cellar to avoid detection by mama, who deemed him unworthy of her daughter’s hand.
Visivox launched. Throughout his career, Peter Drucker, author of 35 books and prime shaper of American management theory, was always invited to speak somewhere. “It became my job to sit in the back of the hall and yell louder! when his voice started to drop,” recalls Doris Drucker, “and I want to tell you, having heard these talks dozens of times, I was really getting tired of it.”
Surely, she thought, there must be a better voice feedback method. So, finding nothing available on the market, she invented one. Her solution, Visivox, was a small device that attaches to a podium and translates the speakers voice volume into a series of warning lights. The speaker can thus project the proper voice volume to match the hall.
Partner up. “Nobody knows every part about starting a business,” says Drucker. “You really need to find and bring in good partners who can help you.” Drucker, quite naturally, turned to her husband. He had, after all, guided the world’s major businesses, and revamped the country’s view of business management. “So I asked for his help,” she recounts, “and he says, `oh, I don’t know anything about small business.’”
Undeterred by her unhelpful hubby, Drucker partnered with an electrical engineer and, by l996, at the age of 84, she was ready to bring her invention to market, and carved out enough space to get it off the ground. “Every entrepreneur needs one to two years of food and shelter money to get started,” says Drucker. “You have to have your time free.”
Key marketing problem. “Inventing’s easy. It’s the marketing that’s hard,” says Drucker. She had a product for which there was no known competitor — seemingly a perfect niche. But Visivox faced a far larger hurdle than competition. “Speaker ego was my biggest problem,” says Drucker. “Every speaker behind every podium thinks his voice fills the room. They don’t care about draperies or different acoustics, they think their voice covers it.”
Yet with a lot of intense marketing, Visivox came to be recognized as a valuable tool. Hotels and universities now equip their podiums with the device and preachers have come to accept that the faithful can get the message only if they can hear it. Speech pathologist George Whitmore of San Bernadino’s Casa Colina Center for Rehabilitation Medicine has found Visivox to be an ideal non-interruptive, self-monitoring tool for his brain-injured patients, helping them to learn how to speak again.
Successful aging, says Drucker, requires a small measure of discipline and a large dose of passion. She insists that nothing helps an individual age well as much as launching a startup. Her credo is to find something that engages you, and avoid falling into a daily routine. And of course, as the German saying goes “count only the sunny days.”
At first glance, critics may be quick to note that Doris Drucker has the singular advantage of being married to one of the century’s great thinkers and business advisors. But as one gets to know Drucker, one begins to feel that the luck may just be on the other spouse. More than likely, any man to marry Clara Schmitz’s daughter would have been destined for the top of his field.