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Innovation and Generosity

March 01, 2019 - 4 minute read

CUI donors Bill and Audrey Dahlgren

CUI donors Bill and Audrey Dahlgren

Bill and Audrey Dahlgren, long-time Concordia University Irvine supporters, built an industry-leading company and family through a combination of innovation, risk-taking and prayer.

“The Dahlgrens are passionate about Lutheran education,” says Tim Jaeger, executive vice president for university advancement. “Bill is a full-speed-ahead guy—fun, generous and very energetic. The boardroom in Robert Alan Grimm Hall, dedicated in 2007, is named after them, and they are currently supporting the new Borland-Manske Center.”

The Dahlgrens founded Airtech International, now located in Huntington Beach, whose products are used to build all planes. Their biggest customers are Boeing and Airbus. Their products are also used to build America Cup boats, Formula One racing cars, wind blades, and military and aerospace vehicles.

“Airtech is like one big family,” Bill says. “We have hardly any turnover.”

Bill graduated from Kent State University in 1959, and did post graduate work in chemistry in Cleveland while working at Dow Chemical Company. His employer transferred him to California in the 1960s. While making calls to aircraft industry customers, Bill noticed that a certain process wasn’t working well: vacuum bagging, the process of creating formed parts for a myriad of uses in the aerospace, aircraft and other industries.

“I could see where this product and many more were going to be needed, so I struck out on my own in 1973,” Bill says. “It was very scary to do that. I had to mortgage the house and I didn’t tell my wife. Fortunately, it worked out okay. I told her twenty years later and I am very glad she was not near any weapons.”

Bill’s newly-formed company addressed a problem with the films used in vacuum bagging: he replaced PVA vacuum bags with his nylon film. The PVA film was not water resistant and would not take the high temperatures and pressures used in autoclaves to create composite parts. Today autoclaves use nylon film almost exclusively for vacuum bagging.

Today, that product and many others invented by Airtech are used throughout the industry to help create the big blades on wind turbines, airplane fuselages, wings, tails, control surfaces, Formula One cars and more. Since that first invention, Bill has traveled 200,000 air miles per year to every major city in the world, checking factories and making sales. Bill and Audrey’s son and daughter both work at Airtech, along with three of their grandchildren. Airtech has more than 1,000 employees globally. Their son, Jeff, is now the President and CEO of Airtech. Bill’s sales card reads, “The sun never sets on Airtech.”

"Our son Jeff’s leadership is the source of my optimism for Airtech’s future. He is leading the company into new technologies that will cause Airtech to prosper and grow for many generations to come. Jeff has secured Airtech’s future as he trains his son Alex to take his place.

Our daughter Joy supports Jeff and helps him wherever she is needed. I have to admit, she has my sales genes and has proven herself in her sales performance. Joy has imparted her abilities to her daughters Kristin and Michelle. They will help Alex take Airtech into the future."

Finding Concordia Irvine

The Dahlgrens discovered Concordia Irvine through Jack Preus, who was the new pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Rancho Palos Verdes some decades ago and would go on to become Concordia’s third president some years later.

“We became good friends and that’s when I got involved with Concordia Irvine,” Bill says. “Jack and Kurt Krueger and the other presidents have done such a fabulous job at Concordia. I can’t say enough. The students are just wonderful.”

For at least fifteen years, the Dahlgrens have attended the Gala of Stars and generously supported student scholarships. In 2006, Concordia University Irvine gave Bill its Faithfulness and Excellence award at the Faith & Business Forum. The award is for business leaders who show a commitment to Christian principles, ethical standards and exemplary success in business.

“God was so good to me,” Bill says. “In my early days I wasn’t able to give service to the church like I wanted, and I didn’t have money to do it, either. Now it’s payback time for me. I can do more things for the church that I couldn’t afford to or had no time to do earlier.”

What’s the secret to building a great company? “A lot of hard work, if you want to know the truth,” Bill says. “After all those early years, I didn’t have any personal friends. It was all customers and people I worked with. I gave up a ‘normal’ life to travel the world selling my products and building factories. It was a lot of hard work but you look back and it was all worth it.”

His other secret: having a praying, supportive wife. “Audrey is a woman of prayer, and I couldn’t have gotten into this business without her,” Bill says. “Early on, I had two employees and we used her teacher’s salary to pay them. She took care of our two kids, got her master’s degree and doctorate degree in education and kept the home front going while I was traveling.”

It was a lot of hard work but you look back and it was all worth it.

At their church, Audrey started the secret prayer partners group which prays for each other throughout the year. Bill and Audrey served at Mount Olive for forty-seven years, and are now at Christ Lutheran Church in Rancho Palos Verdes where Bill serves as chief elder and vice president. Audrey serves as the head of the board of education for the church’s school, which has 250 students and an outstanding reputation.

Airtech’s future looks bright, Bill says, as sales continue to grow and they create new and innovative products to meet the times. He also cherishes his and Audrey’s connection with Concordia Irvine.

“Anytime I get depressed, I go down to Concordia and see those wonderful students and that takes me out of my depression in a hurry,” Bill says. “The country still has a chance with them.”

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