Bauer Tells Entrepreneurial Story

April 18, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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ZEELAND – If Fred Bauer’s business story reads like that of a young entrepreneur, that’s because it is. The leader of the country’s leading producer of mirror technology, Bauer has always kept his roots and his home local.

As a Midwesterner, Bauer, chairman and CEO of Gentex Corp., learned the value of hard work early and went on to further his need for knowledge at Michigan State University where he graduated cum laude, with a major in electrical engineering and a minor in business.

“After college I started Simicon,” said Bauer. “We manufactured sophisticated electronic furnace control units, which I saw the need for while watching my father in his furnace business.”

The product incorporated photoelectric sensors, which would prove to be a source of innovation throughout Bauer’s business endeavors. Within a few years Simicon attracted the attention of Fortune 500 company Robertshaw Controls, a major manufacturer of automatic control systems for buildings and appliances, and was subsequently bought in the early ‘70s.

With the transaction complete, Bauer looked to other opportunities and eventually turned to the fire protection products. He had thought there was a need for better smoke detection, and in 1974, founded Gentex and co-invented the world’s first dual-cell photoelectric smoke detector.

The product quickly revolutionized the industry because it was less prone to false alarms and was designed to quickly detect slow, smoldering fires.

The company went public in 1981 in part, Bauer said, to help fund a new venture of developing automatic-dimming rearview mirrors.

“I knew that automakers had been looking for some 20 years for a way to make nighttime driving safer by eliminating dangerous rearview mirror glare. I thought this may be what they were looking for,” said Bauer.

Eventually, Bauer found out his expertise in electronics and electro-optical sensing technologies held the key. And in 1982 Gentex introduced the world’s first electromechanical (motorized) auto-dimming mirror.

Ford and General Motors quickly adopted the product and after three years were purchasing over 200,000 units per year.

The drive for hard work and something more drove Bauer to team up with research chemists and electrical engineers to achieve what seemed impossible to most people in the community.

In 1987, Bauer and his team developed the world’s first electrochromic mirror and gave birth to an entire industry.

“This was a process most people thought would never be accomplished. We took a 50-year-old scientific phenomena out of the laboratory and brought it into the automobile,” said Bauer.

Today, Gentex has developed such things as the light-emitting diode technology (LED) and developed mirrors that allow humans to practically be led through life by their rearview mirrors. Mirrors that can help in an emergency, open garage doors, check the pressure in your tires and maybe someday even walk the family dog.

In 1998 Bauer was the recipient of the Ernst & Young Master Entrepreneur of the Year Award, proving his hard work and commitment to the community.

Today, Bauer lives in Holland with his family and enjoys what time he has from business with them.

With technology booming and Gentex’s business only growing, Bauer looks toward the future with anticipation.

“We will continue to advance electro-optics and the science of electrochromics. Our goal is to also leverage our technology and core competencies to meet our consumer’s needs in new and exciting ways.”

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