Daniel A. Merkel, Bus Ad ’51
When you run your own business, you can find success rather simply, according to Dan Merkel. You’ll have your share of blood, sweat and tears to be sure, but if you’re honest and live with integrity, you’re off to a solid start.
Dan should know. In 1968, he walked into a bank, told the loan officers about his idea to start American Orthodontics Corporation because he saw a need for high-quality, yet affordable, orthodontics, and walked out with the nod. “I borrowed $280,000 on my signature only,” recalls Dan, chief executive officer and chairman of the corporation.
That’s because his honest reputation preceded him. “That first month we did $400 in business,” Dan laughs.
Four decades later, Dan continues to run this company that exists largely on the honor system. “We have no time clocks and there are 400 people here, three shifts, flex time,” explains Dan. “And it works very well. It’s the right thing to do and it’s easy.”
American Orthodontics also made it look easy to set an industry standard in product quality and low-cost production. Through process automation and state-of-the-art technology, the company manufactures 95 percent of its products in Wisconsin, rather than following its competition and moving manufacturing to non-U.S. locations.
Perhaps most telling of Dan’s character and integrity is the text on an award he received from the St. Vincent de Paul Community Store in Sheboygan a few years back.
“Thank you for your wonderful work ethic, ever present smile, gracious manner to all, friendship and faith,” reads the plaque. “You set the tone for all who come after.”
Indeed, Dan sets a tone — one of humble appreciation for a business that performs well, and the people who make it so.