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Meet David Oreck

Oreck Canada vacuum, orbiter, air purifierAt 85, David Oreck isn't about to slow down. He still drives his mint-condition motorcycles to work, flies his biplanes out of New Orleans Lakefront Airport, and runs a few miles a day in Audubon Park. He likes to work hard and play hard, too. And the idea of retirement is unspeakable. Says Oreck, "You might just as well be productive."

Born in Duluth, Minn., Oreck joined the Army Air Force at the age of 17. A radar officer and navigator, he flew bombing missions over Japan during World War II. Then he made his way to New York City and discovered what would turn out to be his true calling - working as a salesman. Selling everything from Whirlpool appliances to RCA televisions and microwaves, he rose through the ranks to become general sales manager. Then, in 1963, he left to form Oreck Corporation.

While Whirlpool was unable to make a success of its upright vacuum cleaners, Oreck believed that with a redesign of the machine, he could give it a new lease on life. So Whirlpool gave him exclusive rights to market them throughout the United States. The company also gave Oreck free reign to redesign the machine and then produced his prototype for him under the RCA Whirlpool label.

On a cold snowy day in Chicago, carrying the vacuum cleaner under his arm a la Willie Loman, the call came. In New Orleans, the RCA distributor was fighting for last place and winning, and the company wanted to know if he'd be interested in taking it over. "I flew down to New Orleans that day. The sun was out. It was beautiful. I was still in my heavy winter overcoat. I said to myself, 'Wow, I'm missing something here.'" In 48 hours, David Oreck bought the floundering business. In two years time, he turned it around and went from last to first place.

Today, Oreck's own vacuum empire continues to grow by leaps and bounds. But in his corporate offices, one gets the sense that his hobbies are always beckoning. From a three-foot modern replica of a 1930s Waco YMF5 open-cockpit stunt plane, to the Harley Davidson motorcycles parked in his conference room, you're left wondering where he gets his energy. One thing's for sure, though. David Oreck is a man who'll never have too many flying licenses or pairs of running shoes.
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