The 70-year-old president of IP Automation, a Springs-based engineering and manufacturing firm with clients that include such big names as
Such dedication at an age when many people have retired or are at least thinking about it may explain why IP Automation has lasted 20 years, despite some downsizing, and why Petkov has loyal employees who have stuck with him through good times and bad.
To understand Petkov's drive, you have to look past the company's nondescript building near the
Born in 1943, Petkov grew up on his grandparents' farm in
"I still see the silhouette of him going in the night," he said. "He was a guy who inspired me so much."
From his father, Petkov learned to drive and operate the trucks on the farm, an experience that led him to earn a degree in mechanical engineering after graduating from high school. He then started a career and a family, but their aspirations were limited in Soviet-controlled
"When my children started to grow up, I saw there was no future for them in (
Inspired by a friend who swam across the
"They treated me with respect because I was doing everything they needed," he said.
Petkov arrived in
"I told these guys, 'My English is very bad, but I'm a very good designer,'?" Petkov said.
The hiring team wanted proof. They sent Petkov home with some machine parts; he sent Schlage a design, and the company hired him.
Petkov built Schlage's first fully automated machine, a lock polishing device. When Petkov finished the project, Schlage's president summoned him to the company's headquarters in
"I was the happiest person in the world," Petkov said.
Schlage transferred Petkov to
A firm believer in the value of different perspectives, Petkov assembled a team capable of imagining and executing the development of highly complex machinery. Under Petkov's leadership, their ideas have taken many forms -- machines that create the springs in the heels of Nike shoes, mold the hard inserts in the toes of work boots and test the endurance of Schlage's locks and door closures, to name a few.
The company has about 30 employees and does multimillions of dollars in sales each year, though Petkov wouldn't give a hard number. Though the widespread outsourcing of manufacturing jobs forced Petkov to downsize over the years, many of his early employees have remained loyal to him.
"No two projects are the same," he said.
More than two decades after starting his own company, Petkov hasn't lost his zeal for innovation -- and he has no plans to retire. For inspiration, he looks to Einstein, the quintessential genius whose insights are hung alongside his grandchildren's drawings in an office full of books and designs.
One quote -- "The day you stop learning is the day you start dying" -- seems to encapsulate the energy that keeps him focused in the earliest hours of the morning.
"He has lived the American dream," said
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