The Self-Made Man: David Oreck

A lot of the Self Made Men we’ve talked about at TSB started when they were young. This makes a certain amount of sense; young men have more energy and less life stuff—families, mortgages, etc.—holding them back from chasing something that might fail, and a lot of us feel like we have more to prove.

This week’s subject—David Oreck—didn’t strike out on his own until he was in his forties, though, and has used this fact as proof that hard work is really what makes entrepreneurs successful.

You’ve probably seen David Oreck before, since he’s the spokesman for the eponymous Oreck Corporation and regularly appears in ads like this:

What you might not know is that Oreck flew B-29s during WWII and got a job as a wholesale distributor for RCA, eventually working his way up to general sales manager. Oreck helped introduce America to a lot of new products during the 1950s, including washing machines, microwave ovens, and color televisions. In fact, Oreck was present at the congressional hearings where the FCC determined standards for color TV broadcasts.

In the early 1960s, Oreck started the Oreck Corporation to sell vacuum cleaners by mail, since he’d acquired an abandoned design for a lightweight, upright vacuum from Whirlpool. Seeing a future in the design, Oreck took over a failing RCA distribution center in New Orleans and moved there from Chicago to get started (which, considering how miserable Chicago winters are, is understandable).

Oreck started marketing his vacuum cleaners to hotels, where their lighter weight would be helpful enough to override his competitors’ criticism that his model wasn’t durable enough for sustained use, and built his company up from there. It took him twenty years to reach what he considered a successful place, but he claims that Winston Churchill’s advice to “never, never, never give up” kept him going. That’s one of my mantras as well, and TSB thinks anyone trying to get something going for themselves should keep it in mind.

Not one to rest on his haunchy laurels, David Oreck is still a licensed pilot with a personal collection of aircraft, and lectures for free at universities all over the country, hoping to inspire budding entrepreneurs to follow in his footsteps. He also has another direct mail business, the David Oreck Candle Company, going strong right now.

I’ll leave you with this video of Oreck delivering the keynote address at Pace University’s 2005 Pace Pitch contest, in which he talks about Hurricane Katrina (this was back in 2005) and entrepreneurship.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at