John A. Bratt
Founder and CEO
For his outstanding contributions as an engineer and entrepreneur in the manufacturing industry, particularly in Indiana, and for his service to Purdue University, the College of Engineering is proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to John A. Bratt.
Despite being chosen as one of this year’s Distinguished Engineering Alumni, John Bratt did not have the most auspicious beginnings.
“I was young and thought I could whip my way through an engineering school by just appearing,” he says. “And when I had ‘appeared’ for about a year and a half at Rose-Hulman, they got tired of me just ‘appearing’ and not making my grades, and they asked me to leave.”
Bratt went to the Purdue extension branch in northwest Indiana and told the registrar that he wanted to be admitted as a regular student. He brought his transcript to an academic counselor: “I showed it to him, and he gave me this look and said, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t do anything for you. Nor can anyone else.’”
Back in the Game
It would take him five determined years of good grades, but in September 1962 Bratt was admitted to the Purdue main campus in West Lafayette. Nancy, his wife, worked to put him through school, and their first daughter, Jennifer, was born later that same year, all of which made it that much more important that he succeed.
“I was concerned about studying and making my grades,” Bratt says. “I’d been on the other end of that spectrum, and it was neither fun nor intelligent.”
His efforts were rewarded with acceptance into two honor fraternities and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1965.
“I thought the degree gave me the greatest opportunity to do diverse things,” says Bratt, “the ability to say, ‘Well, gee, if I want to do this I can, or if I want to do that I can do that.’”
Going in Many Different Directions
And Bratt has been highly successful by taking his Purdue engineering education and going in many different directions.
“When I had been at Jenn-Air for about four years, I decided I needed to do something else,” Bratt says. “Being an engineer, I sat down, evaluated the opportunities as I saw them, and ranked them in a priority order. What happened to be at the top of the list was, ‘Buy a company.’”
In 1979, while still employed at Jenn-Air Range Division as an assistant director of quality control, Bratt purchased JBI Incorporated, a local advertising firm, and then in 1981 a small cleaning supply company.
Two years later, in 1983, Bratt pursued his first leveraged buyout, Crown Paper Box Corporation, and sold his two small service companies.
In 1986, Bratt formed Tenax Corporation, a parent organization that has evolved into a combination of diverse companies and product lines, including Dual Machine Corporation, which manufactures screw machine products and locknut products, and Hoffco/Comet Industries Inc., a Richmond, Indiana, manufacturer of power transmission equipment and cabs for off-road vehicles.
“I developed a philosophy early on about these companies,” Bratt says. “Albeit small, if there were enough of them, they could create a critical mass.”
According to Bratt, the ability to be a successful risk-taker and corporate leader is a natural pursuit for the trained engineer.
“Engineering education teaches you to solve problems, teaches you how to think, and teaches you to approach a problem in a systematic manner,” says Bratt. “That’s what an acquisition is. I don’t know that solving a business problem is all that different from solving an engineering problem.” Currently, Tenax employs more than 220 workers.
In addition to his professional life, Bratt has served as the chairman of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra annual fund campaign and is a member of the organization’s board of directors. He was also a member of the board of directors of the American Pianists Association.
Paying Back the Debt
Bratt has served on numerous Purdue advisory councils and steering committees. He has appeared as a guest speaker in the Purdue classroom, and he has served on the Purdue Research Foundation’s board of directors and as a Vision 21 cabinet member.
Bratt has also supported the Beering Scholars and endowed the John A. Bratt and Nancy J. Bratt Scholarship in Mechanical Engineering “The University provided me with an education, and that education allowed me to do what I am doing,” says Bratt. “And for that I owed the University a debt. All I’m trying to do is to pay back that debt.”
|2003||Engineering Alumni Association Service Award, Purdue|
|2001–||Research Foundation Board, Purdue|
|1998||American Pianists Association Board|
|1997||Sagamore of the Wabash|
|1993||Chair, Purdue President’s Council|
|1993||Outstanding Mechanical Engineer, Purdue|
|1993–||Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Board|
|1993–||Mechanical Engineering Industrial Advisory Board, Purdue|
|1991||Alumni Foundation Board, Purdue|
|1986–||Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Tenax Corp., Indianapolis|
|1983||President, Crown Paper Box Corporation, Indianapolis|
|1978||Assistant Director of Quality Control, Jenn-Air Range Division, Indianapolis|
|1977||Manager of Engineering, Jenn-Air Fan Division, Indianapolis|
|1974||Manager of Engineering, Burger Chef Systems, Indianapolis|
|1968||Manager of Production Engineering and Quality Control, Anderson Company, Gary, Ind.|
|1965||Manufacturing Research Engineer, Saginaw Steering Gear Division, General Motors Corporation, Saginaw, Mich.|
BSME ’65, Purdue University
MBA ’72, Indiana University
Professional Engineering License, 1970