With both of his parents struggling to survive in Poland post WWII, Jerry’s family had a goal to provide a better life for him and his sister. Who knew that this young boy walked amongst the ruins of Warsaw would come to American to build a $100 million company.
Alan: Welcome back I'm here today with Jerry Brenholtz, he's a cofounder of ATR international, Jerry welcome to today's show.
Jerry: Thank you
Alan: So Jerry for for the listeners here you have a very unique background. I'd like you to tell the listeners where it started and where it started and how you got to where you are today.
Jerry: Well... I don't know if I want to disclose my age but I was born 1942 so in a couple months I'll be turning 75. I grew up in Poland, but was born in Russia. The reason is that my mom escaped and my mom escaped to Warsaw about 3 months after the war started. And went to Russia because it was the only place to go, met my father there so as a result of that, I was born in Russia, Fortunately right after the war in early 1946. And since my mother was a Polish citizen, of my father could actually leave along with her from Russia and went to Poland. The objective was not really stay in Poland because Poland was in total ruins and is especially the city we came to. First we came to Warsaw- I was only 4 years old at that time so I can only tell you what my parents have told me but we came to Warsaw and my mom said, 'I can't live here, She said, the ground is soaked with blood. But there were some opportunities, Warsaw was totally destroyed. There were some opportunities to move to the western part of Poland which the poles took it from the Germans, the city Szczecin. And this was a port city, even though it was quite a bit destroyed but some of the buildings were still in pretty good shape. The city was probably 70 or 80 percent in ruins. So we settled there and at that point my parents never really thought that it was unsafe because unsafe was the war. But I remember very well that the streets and the trails that we were walking through were destroyed buildings. And the buildings that we were walking through at any minute could fall down. So we went there and lived there until 1965 for 19 years. And my father was not Polish so he hated it because he had language difficulties but quickly he learned then at one point he actually thought that maybe we should go back to Russia. Thank God that we did not, but life was pretty challenging at that point. You adapt to the particular situation and are optimistic in saying that things will get better and sure enough they were getting better and as a child my parents always worried that I would get involved with some gangs. There were some gangs but obviously we didn't know much about them. But they were constantly watching. Sometimes I would come home with a bump on my head due to somebody throwing a stone or whatever, so it was quite a you know quite a very challenging time for us. But they always felt that first we need to educate our children. The idea for them was, as I mentioned earlier, not to stay in Poland really, and the ideas was to go to Israel. Because in 1947 in the country was created but again Israel was not in such a great shape either and many people were you traveling to actually go to Germany. To everybody's surprise why would anybody want to go to Germany but the idea was to go to Germany and hopefully from Germany there was some organization setup that was bringing people to the US. So our ultimate goal was always to come to to the US. So in the early stages obviously Poland was under the communist control so you could not leave. So how do you leave if you cannot leave? We applied for immigration, the Polish government would ask so what's the reason for immigrating. You could not say that you didn't like the system. Because potentially you could end up with penitentiary. So the typical answers were uniting with the family because they were very sympathetic to people after the war because many had lost their families, my mother lost almost all her entire family.
Alan: Jerry it's a remarkable story of what you've goine through in life and I do need to take a quick break up but when we get back I want to continue on. I'm visiting here today Jerry Brenholtz, he's the cofounder of ATR International but he has a remarkable story of how he was born during the war and immigrated through several war torn countries in getting to the US. We'll be right back.
Alan: Welcome back I'm visiting here today with Jerry Brenholtz, he's the cofounder of ATR International. Jerry before the break we were talking about the miraculous journey that your mother went to through, filled with adversity in leaving Warsaw as the war broke out, finding your dad, marrying him in Russia and going back for 19 years or so into Poland. Resettling and eventually making it down to Germany-
Jerry: I'm sorry we did not go to Germany, we stayed in Poland, there were people that were going through Germany- primarily those that didn't have children. Those with children were actually afraid to travel because crossing the borders was still not legal. But we stayed in Poland.
Alan: So as the war broke out, your mom, did she travel or leave Warsaw by herself did she have family with her?
Jerry: She actually followed her younger brother who was at that time 15. And he is escaped first with a couple of his friends and they made a pledge to themselves that they will never come back and so on and what I hear is that they actually bought a gun. The actually bought a gun for protection. My uncle who was 15 at that time, his objective was to kind of interesting he said he's going to enlist in the Russian army, train, and then go to Israel to fight for independence. That was his objective. And so they made the pledge, we're not coming back. One of the kids came back, went there afraid, winter of course cold, they didn't have enough clothes in fact they escaped without the knowledge of my grandmother or my grandfather, just took off so imagine 15 year old kids. So one of the kids came back so that is why we know the story. So then my mom and her younger sister was 13 at that time is my mom was 17 she told the my is my grandmother, that she will go and find them. So first wanted to go with the with the boy who came back. My mother told her, you're not going with a boy. So she went with her younger sister who was 13 and you can imagine at 13 year old girl- constantly there were issues here and there and crying and all that but anyway they went there with very little clothes, it was for heavy winter they almost froze to death and she described that she was saved by a polish doctor who was close to the border into Russia and he took him into the hospital and kept him in the hospital- for longer than he was permitted. So anyway after leaving the hospital she moved on and then she found some work available in the Euro mountains. So you can imagine that was a couple thousand miles from the Polish border but they managed to go there and that this were she did meet my father. So the rest of her life for her was more of a survival. My dad was 20 years older than her. For her they didn't think of 'I love you', it was more of 'I need to survive.' And it's like The Fiddler on the Roof.
Alan: Obviously your dad when she wanted to go back to Poland, he came st the sacrifice of learning the new language but it's a remarkable story and I want to get into how you transitioned out of Poland and got over here into the United States, however before doing that I need to take a quick break. I'm visiting here today with Jerry Brenholtz, he is the cofounder of ATR International, and we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back, I've been visiting here today with Jerry Brenholtz, he's a cofounder of ATR International. Jerry before the break we were talking about your mom and that she was now with her young family over in Poland after the war. How eventually did she come over here to the United States?
Jerry: So the objective was always for us. For most people they were dreaming of coming to the U. S. Legal or illegal immigration, I don't know if it existed or not, but the first process was to apply for immigration. The US had a quota system and since we lived in Poland. The quota system is based on where you were born. So since my sister and I were born in Russia, and there were not many people in Poland at that time who were born in Russia. So the quota was a little bit shorter. There were Polish people applying for immigration to the U. S. but they were born in Poland. So there were many many more applicants who were born in in Poland. So had we applied for immigration based on my mother's birth we would have waited a long time. We still waited 6 years before our quota showed up. So then we were able to immigrate in 1965. We were given passports by the Polish government, I think the passports were valid for 3 months. We were allowed to leave with no more than $5 in our pockets. So what we did is how do we survive we come to the U. S. What would be our source of survival so my mother and father decided to buy various goods there that they'd be able to sell it once they arrived. So that this would happen.
So you came over here, obviously your education was a need. Did you immediately started into school or where did you end up immigrating to? So we immigrated to Detroit first. And the reason we came to Detroit was because I was at that time 23 years old. For my education I went to automotive engineering school. So the prospects for jobs were much better at that time in the auto industry. And so we came to Detroit. And of course without the language your prospects for a job are not very good. When I studied in Poland, my parent's objectve was that their children had to be educated. So we had only 2 choices, a doctor or an engineer. So my sister became a doctor and I became an engineer. Customarily at that time if you studied engineering, you had to study German. German was the predominant language for engineering. So when I came to the U. S. I didn't know any English. I think I probably maybe knew 30-40 words at maximum. So I made it a commitment that I would have to learn at least 50 words a day. So I brought a big polish-english dictionary and made that kind of a commitment. Of course I couldn't put the words together, the grammar was always an issue, but it was important. So then I enrolled in the University at Wayne State University. My English was still not good enough, so I was able to do enroll in the university is for foreign students. And there was english for foreign students. So there was I think [class levels] A,B,C and D. So I qualified for the D class which was one of the lowest. But since I had made the commitment to learn the language I went from D to C and then from C I went to A. And then obviously enrolled in composition writing and literature. The primary objective was to capture the language, that was the only objective at that point.
Alan: The whole life story is one of survival and perseverance and then after school you eventually made it out to California what brought you this direction?
Jerry: I graduated from Wayne State University with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering sciences and one of our neighbors in Detroit to traveled to California to visit his daughter. And so he decided to drive because he couldn't afford it couldn't afford to fly. So he says I'm going to be driving, I and said, 'can I go with you? I'll help you with driving'. So we end up first in Los Angeles and I had a distant cousin there, was actually born in the U. S. Met her there and I fell in love with Los Angeles. I said wow these mountains and the ocean and the climate. It was December of course you know what the weather's like in December in Detroit. But then I also had a contact in Berkeley. So I decided to come to to Berkeley and also San Francisco was very much more impressive than Los Angeles at that time. When I came there, you could see what you are breathing in Los Angeles. So anyways I decided that I would look for a job in the San Francisco Bay Area. This was a time of a recession during Nixon's administration. The aerospace industry was shut down pretty much and so on. But lucky for me I actually found a job in a small consulting company that day was doing work for the nuclear power industry. And it was exciting because it was relatively new. And there were very very bright people working there so that was the beginning actually. The company had about 13 people. And so pretty much a you learn from one another, it's just part of an amazing beginning in California. Of course I'd meet friends and other people and so on.
Alan: So essentially from getting your career established, you broke out to do your own company, how much further along was that?
Jerry: I don't know if everybody's experience is similar, but to sometimes you start a company because of necessity. For me it was moving fast forward I went through some other industries, nuclear industry and then the late seventies the nuclear industry was-
Alan: Jerry I need to interrupt you, right now we're running up the break for a commercial, but when we get back, I want to jump into the inspiration of jumping out to do your own company. We'll be right back after these messages, we're visiting here today with Jerry Brenholtz, he's the cofounder of ATR International we'll be right back out these message.
Alan: Welcome back I'm visiting here today with Jerry Brenholtz, he's the CEO and cofounder of ATR International, and Jerry before the break we we're talking about the transition from a career to ownership of your own company. And how did that start out then?
Jerry: So again, I went from the nuclear industry to the semiconductor industry and at 1one point started doing consulting work and there were many other incidents that happened along the way but for the sake of time I think I'm gonna move it forward. So I started doing consulting work and started actually marketing my own profession. And then I realized that actually I'm pretty good in marketing my own profession so maybe I should market other people's professions. And this was 1988. My focus was in marketing other people's professions specifically within a highly skilled technical is area which at that time didn't quite exist didn't quite exist. There were temporary agencies that focused primarily on the lower skilled categories, administrative categories, but the presentation for technical people was rather minimal at that time. So we were in another recession in 1988, a white collar recession. But I quickly realized that maybe I'm not in the highly skilled technical categories but maybe I'm in them employment business. So the disk drive industry was at that time accelerating, many companies such as Maxtel, Quantum and so on were really doing quite well and I realize that day they are in the cyclical nature because they are dependent on the OEM's that are buying their drives and so, so because it's cyclical so it must be that people are coming and going. So I stepped into that industry, so before I even realized 95 percent of the people that we actually had to hire on our payroll were manufacturing support.
Alan: And how big did your company grow to for the staffing?
Jerry: Today we are $100 million company.
Alan: Amazing. How many people are you placing within companies?
Jerry: So today our primary focus is on industries which are industries of the future. So we're looking at industries such as the medical device industry which is growing by leaps and bounds, a financial service organizations which are focusing on building their IT infrastructure, and also healthcare industries. So over the last 28 years we've gone through several cycles in the economy, and every cycle brings different skill sets so we're always looking forward trying to see what is there next thing that will be marketable and we're finding today that the information technology industry are very very important and there's a tremendous shortage in that and therefore we have people of H-1B visas and so on. And again, the engineering skills within de medical device industry so... Today we have on our staff about the 1,200 people.
Alan: So Jerry, I have to ask this question, given where your mom started in her life in escaping a war torn country. What would she have to say today with with how her kids ended up?
Jerry: Well it was kind of interesting because when I started the company- their objective was always my daughter should be a doctor and my son should be an engineer. So when some of her friends would ask her, 'do you have kids?' and she said 'yes I do, my daughter is a doctor and my son used to be an engineer and now he's a salesman. So she never really understood this until shortly before she passed she said to me,take care of your sister.
Alan: An absolutely remarkable story, Jerry I'd like to thank you for being on today's show, we've been visiting here today with Jerry Brenholtz, he's the CEO and cofounder of ATR International, and thank you.
Jerry: It's been a pleasure thank you.